2020 and the Climate: Milestone for Success or Epitaph for Failure

We cannot afford to wait any longer to begin serious mitigation efforts.  The emissions reductions pledged in the Cancun Agreement currently set the world on a trajectory for a 4.3° C temperature increase by 2100. According to the new UNEP “Bridging the Gap” report, an additional 6 to 11 Gt CO2 in emissions reductions are needed in order to reach a 2° C goal.  The good news is, UNEP shows how to reach the goal with economically and technologically feasible solutions, though the timeframe for success is narrow.  If rigorous action is postponed until 2020, success will drift beyond our reach.

Without political incentives to invest in alternative energy, governments will continue to rely on fossil fuels to meet growing energy demands, locking in carbon intensive technologies over the next eight years.  According to the International Energy Agency, for every $1.00 avoided in the power sector before 2020, an additional $4.30 would need to be spent after 2020 in order to compensate for the increased emissions.  Of course, any shortfall in mitigation will drive up adaptation costs and real impacts on lives to a much greater degree.

We need to give our world time for the transition to a low carbon economy. Emissions must peak by 2015 and sharply decline thereafter.  The task is formidable.  According to UNEP, “the highest average rate of emission reductions over the next four to five decades found in the [integrated assessment model] literature is around 3.5% per year.” But based on the C-ROADS model, emissions reductions would need to decline even more, at a rate of at least 4% per year between 2020 and 2050 to reach the 2° C target – a ramp-down rate well beyond historical experience.

Time is of the essence.  Clifford Mahlung, a delegate from Jamaica, said, “We’ve already waited too long.  I know countries need a little more time to get over their economic woes -- but eight years?”  And we need to agree strong package here in Durban to launch that effort now, as the climate clock is running faster and faster.

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