Taking Stock of the Gigatonne Gap

1 June 2010

ECO is deeply concerned that the planet is on a fast track to dangerous climate change. The lack of ambition and plain inaction by the world’s richest countries has created a negative spiral that needs to be broken. So-called ‘political realism’ and current lifestyles will use up the global carbon budget by the early 2020s. Not unlike the financial crisis, an emergency bail-out package is needed to prevent a climate collapse.

There is a widely-acknowledged ‘gigatonne gap’ from the mitigation pledges made at Copenhagen to a global carbon budget and realistic pathway that will be consistent with avoiding dangerous warming of 2º C or more, not to mention 1.5º C, above pre-industrial levels.

On the current path, science tells us we are facing a world that is at least 3º to 4º C warmer. What does that mean?  The answers are shocking. This could spell the extinction of countries, ecosystems and species. People will perish. It is already starting to happen. Parties need to urgently take ownership of this gap and acknowledge the responsibility they share in closing it.

ECO has highlighted before that the complexity of the climate problem has instilled fear and mistrust – particularly between industrialized and developing countries. Without fairness and respect we will never have trust. The reality of historic responsibility, the difference in per capita emissions, the primary importance of development for countries whose populations struggle with the crisis of poverty – these are very real. The dynamic of fear and division is obscuring the urgency of the disaster we face.

The fundamental reason why the world is heading for a climate disaster is the feeble ambition on reduction targets and finance coming from all industrialized countries. In particular, the excessive emissions from the US now and to 2020 and beyond are stretching the world’s carbon budget beyond the breaking point.

Whatever else we could say about Copenhagen, it certainly underlined the need for a Fair, Ambitious and Binding agreement which combines the environmental security of a robust emissions cap with a much-needed energy and economic transformation spurred by policies, measures and innovation. Given the size of the gap, we urgently need creative thinking and courageous action.

Further work by SBSTA can support the analysis of available solutions and taking the necessary decisions. ECO proposes that Parties agree, here in Bonn, to hold a workshop under SBSTA Article 9 (‘Scientific, technical and socio-economic aspects of mitigation of climate change’) in the first inter-sessional before Cancún, to come to a common understanding of the scale of the gap, and for steps that could and must be taken to address it.

Developed countries have not adequately reduced their emissions since agreeing the Convention in 1992. The aggregate target of -5% agreed in Kyoto may have been a political success, but it was far from consistent with the scientific realities even at that time. And in the event, many Annex I countries haven’t achieved those modest targets, and some have barely even tried. They need to do more.

And still, ECO also notes that fingerpointing is not a survival strategy. We will only stay afloat with a concerted effort from all, according to their abilities.

Climate realism requires action, not new accounting tricks.  So another problem is the loopholes that were built into the Kyoto architecture . . . LULUCF rules that hide increased forestry emissions, prodigious offsetting with little additionality (and not even targeted towards sustainable low carbon development), and AAU banking that has become an increasing concern as the end of the first commitment period approaches. The Secretariat’s technical paper recalculated the levels of effort pledged and sheds a clear light on the assumptions behind the targets. While these issues are part of the KP negotiations, they must also be put in a consolidated context.

Finally, ECO suggests that the workshop explore the potential of new sources, sectors and approaches to reduce radiative forcing in the atmosphere and generate funds to support action. Such innovative approaches could include, inter alia:

* International aviation and shipping, a large and rapidly growing source of emissions (business-as-usual would result in 2.2 Gt CO2 by 2020), and one that can be a significant source of climate finance.

* Designing REDD, market mechanisms, NAMAs, etc., to avoid double-counting of both developed country mitigation and financial support obligations, all relevant to the MRV agenda item.

* Reducing emissions of black carbon.

* Inclusion of new F-gases in the climate regime, as technically feasible.

* Taking industrial GHGs (N2O, HFCs and NF3) out of the CDM. Their abatement costs can be better met through a fund. The CDM can be better targeted at transformational measures.

A comprehensive and realistic approach to closing the gigatonne gap is needed now. The inclusion of new sources and sectors should not replace efforts in existing sectors, but be additional so as to bridge the gigatonne gap and peak global emissions by 2015.

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