Whether countries can agree to limit emissions sufficiently to allow the world to keep warming well below 2C is surely the most critical Copenhagen outcome. So it is timely to look at what is on the table so far, and to hold it up against what the science requires.
Over the last few days, three independent studies have set out to do just that. They all conclude that we are currently off track – although they reach differing conclusions on how big the gap is.
On Sunday, Nicholas Stern and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) came out with what, on the face of it, seems like great news. UNEP declared that here at Copenhagen, countries “may be closer than some observers realise to agreeing the emission cuts required to give the world a reasonable chance of avoiding global warming of more than 2˚C.”
ECO is delighted that Lord Stern and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner are adding an optimistic note to the negotiations, and are also convinced that a fair, ambitious and binding deal is within reach. But optimism also needs to be balanced by
First, the study’s benchmark is to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions to 44 gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2020, down from today’s levels of around 47 Gt. But this gives at best a 50% chance of staying below 2˚C – it is like playing Russian roulette with three bullets in the gun.
Lord Stern’s team reckons that if the high end of all the offers on the table from both industrialised and developing countries were to be delivered, global emissions would stand at around 46 Gt in 2020. This implies that even according to Lord Stern’s estimates, there is still a gap of 2 Gt that needs to be bridged.