Where There's a Gap, There's a Way

ECO was pleasantly surprised by the tenor of interventions at the ADP roundtable on ambition Saturday. There was widespread acknowledgement that, as things currently stand, we are not on track for limiting global temperature rise to 2 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels. Many Parties lamented the lack of pre-2020 ambition, with one bright spark noting that failure to take decisive action in the short term has ominous implications for the post-2020 process.

In the words of one delegation “there is a serious gap”. This echoes what scientists have been telling us for some time now. In its “Bridging the Emissions Gap” report published at the end of 2011, UNEP undertook a systematic assessment of the size of what we should by rights be calling the Multi-Gigatonne Gap, concluding that it is in the range of 6-11 Gt.

So even under the most conservative assessment, which assumes perfect implementation of countries’ current pledges, the world is on a pathway to emit 50 gigatonnes of CO2-equivalent per year by 2020, instead of the needed 44 gigatonnes or less. This analysis is backed up by a whole host of studies, so it seems the science is pretty solid. We think the sheer scale of the gap should have countries setting up Emergency Emissions Reductions Crisis Centres (ECO would abbreviate them EEKKs! if it were in charge).

One reason for optimism is that as huge as the Multi-Gigatonne Gap is, UNEP estimates that emission reductions of between 14 to 20 Gt of CO2-equivalent are possible by 2020 and without any significant technical or financial breakthroughs needed. What is more, the costs incurred by these reductions would not be prohibitive. That sounds like a win-win situation to us.

So what exactly can countries do to stave off impending global meltdown (unfortunately, we are not talking figuratively here)? As it turns out, there’s rather a large menu of options to choose from. Many actions could be implemented with immediate effect, using existing frameworks outside the UNFCCC. The phase out of HFCs is an excellent case in point. Agreeing to a consumption and production phase-out of these super greenhouse gases under the Montreal Protocol, with cost-effective alternatives made available to developing countries, would avoid a whopping 88-140 gigatonnes/CO2e emissions by 2050 at a very reasonable price – the near-term emissions savings would also be sizeable. This approach was recently endorsed by the nations of the world at the Rio+20 Conference – all it would take now is for Parties to the UNFCCC to do the same, thereby freeing themselves up to tackle other challenges.

Other, equally crucial initiatives countries should undertake include addressing international emissions from aviation and shipping, which together account for a massive 5% of global CO2 emissions, abolishing fossil fuel subsidies and closing the huge loopholes in the current commitments (did you know that up to 13 billion surplus AAUs could make their way into the Kyoto Protocol’s next commitment period?) to name but a non-exhaustive few.

With such a long shopping list of potential measures to chose from, there really is no excuse for inaction.

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