World on track for 3C of warming under current global climate pledges, warns UN

Current climate commitments are insufficient to reduce emissions by the amounts needed to avoid dangerous levels of global warming, says Unep report
Fiona Harvey, The Guardian 3 Nov 16;

The commitments made by governments on climate change will lead to dangerous levels of global warming because they are incommensurate with the growth of greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new report.

The United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) said that pledges put forward to cut emissions would see temperatures rise by 3C above pre-industrial levels, far above the the 2C of the Paris climate agreement, which comes into force on Friday.

At least a quarter must be cut from emissions by the end of the next decade, compared with current trends, the UN said.

The report found that emissions by 2030 were likely to reach about 54 to 56 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent a year, a long way astray of the 42 gigatonnes a year likely to be the level at which warming exceeds 2C.

Erik Solheim, chief of Unep, said the world was “moving in the right direction” on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and tackling climate change, but that measures should be taken urgently to avoid the need for much more drastic cuts in emissions in future. “If we don’t start taking additional action now, we will grieve over the avoidable human tragedy.”

He warned in particular that people would start being displaced from their homes by the effects of climate change, suffering from drought, hunger, disease and conflicts arising from these afflictions. Mass migration as a result of climate change is hard to separate from other causes of migration, but is predicted to become a much greater problem.

This year is “locked in” to be the hottest on record, according to Nasa, eclipsing last year’s record heat, and may show the way to future temperature rises and their accompanying problems.

Under the Paris agreement, reached last December, all of the world’s functioning governments have agreed to reduce greenhouse gases in line with the need to hold warming to no more than 2C, which scientists consider the limit of safety. That agreement has been ratified by the US, China and the European Union, and several other governments.

However, while all of the governments involved in the Paris accord have agreed their own domestic targets for curbing greenhouse gases, these are not legally binding. In addition, few countries have set out concrete plans for how they would implement the curbs.

Next week, signatories to the Paris agreement will gather in Marrakesh to flesh out some aspects of the pact reached last year. Supporters hope that some countries may come up with fuller plans for how they mean to achieve the necessary future emissions reductions, and countries that have not yet ratified the agreement will be persuaded to do so.

None are expected to announce new targets on emissions in line with the reductions that the Unep report suggests are necessary. Nations currently have domestic targets on curbing or cutting emissions by 2020, set out in 2009 at the UN meeting in Copenhagen, as well as their Paris commitments which apply from 2025 to 2030.

Asad Rehman, Friends of the Earth’s international climate campaigner, said: “This is a stark warning that cannot be ignored – tougher action on climate change is urgently needed to prevent the world speeding towards catastrophe. Governments are drinking in the ‘last chance saloon’ if the lofty goals of the Paris climate agreement are to be met.”

Richard Black, director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit thinktank, said: “Unep’s report confirms that there has been remarkable acceleration towards a global low-carbon economy over the past year, but considerably more action is required if governments are to meet the target they set under the Paris agreement.”

Another significant climate agreement was signed in the last few weeks. Under the Montreal Protocol of 1987, countries agreed to phase out gases known to be harmful to the ozone layer. Some of the substitutes, however, turned out to be much more potent than carbon dioxide in warming the planet.

Under a new addition to that agreement countries around the world have agreed to remove the harmful HFCs used in some air-conditioning and refrigeration systems. If fully implemented, this could result in a 0.5C reduction in future warming. Given the goal set in Paris for limiting global temperature rises to 2C, this would make a significant difference to the world’s actions on climate change if it is fully endorsed. Phasing out the relevant chemicals may take much of the rest of the decade, however, and could face resistance in some industries.

Solheim urged countries to embark on more ambitious programmes to improve energy efficiency, increase the amount of energy coming from renewable sources, and look to meet the national targets they set in Paris.

UN review says carbon plans fall well short of climate goals
Matt McGrath BBC 3 Nov 16;

A UN review of national plans to cut carbon says they are well short of the levels needed to keep the rise in global temperatures under 2C.

The report finds that by 2030 the amount of CO2 entering the atmosphere will be some 25% above that mark.

The analysis takes into account the pledges that countries have made under the Paris climate agreement.

Many scientists say that technology to remove carbon from the air will now be needed to meet the Paris targets.

The UN Emissions Gap Report, prepared by an international team of scientists, finds that by 2030, global emissions are expected to reach 54 to 56 gigatonnes of CO2.

The authors say this is far above the 42 gigatonnes needed to have a good chance of staying below 2 degrees by the end of the century, and a long way from the 39 gigatonnes needed to keep to 1.5 degrees as was promised in Paris last December.

A gigatonne is roughly the equivalent of the annual emissions produced by all forms of transport in the European Union.

While the report notes that the growth of emissions from fossil fuel use and industry is now slowing, this scale of carbon would put the world on track for a rise in temperatures by the end of this century of between 2.9 and 3.4 degrees C.

"We are moving in the right direction: the Paris Agreement will slow climate change, as will the recent Kigali Amendment to reduce HFCs," said Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment.

"They both show strong commitment, but it's still not good enough if we are to stand a chance of avoiding serious climate change."

The report suggests that there are some areas where progress can be made. The assessment of the plans of the richer G20 countries indicates that some are in line to deliver greater reductions than planned.

The UN review also suggests that the contributions from cities, businesses and other "non-state actors", as they are termed, could reduce emissions by a few crucial gigatonnes.

The UN also says that ambitious action on energy efficiency in buildings and in transport and other areas could help drive down carbon significantly. Investments in this area were up by 6% in 2015 to $221bn.

But with global temperatures in 2016 at one degree above pre-industrial levels, there is a growing acknowledgement that even the most ambitious attempts will not be enough to keep to the 1.5 degree target in play.

The UN report says that "most scenarios that limit warming to below 2 or 1.5 degrees assume the use of so-called negative emissions technologies in the second half of the century".

This will involve the active and permanent removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by planting trees for example, and by the deployment of technologies like bio-energy with carbon capture and storage, or BECCS for short.

This means growing crops that absorb CO2 and then burning them for energy while capturing and storing the warming gas they produce.

"At the moment most of the discussion is about BECCS, so we need to identify suitable areas to sequester carbon and make sure it doesn't leak out. That takes time and technology," said Dr Ed Hawkins from the University of Reading, UK.

"We need to develop the understanding of what that will do for the climate. If we grow all these biofuels in places does that mean we can't grow so much food everywhere? There are these constant trade-offs that we need to consider."

With the Paris Agreement becoming operational on 4 November, and delegates from almost 200 countries meeting in Marrakech next week to consider the next steps, experts are hoping that governments will not just bask in the glory of a job well done, but will see the COP22 gathering as a chance to push forward with ambition.

"I hope that they will agree to lower their nationally determined contributions," Prof Joanna Haigh from Imperial College London, UK, told BBC News.

"It's fantastic that they got the Paris Agreement but their contributions at the moment are nowhere near the 1.5-degree target.

"I think the momentum is such that countries all understand that something extra now needs to be done. The thought process has moved on a step."

UN: Huge emissions cuts needed to meet Paris climate goals
Karl Ritter, Associated Press Yahoo News 4 Nov 16;

STOCKHOLM (AP) -- The world is nowhere near on track to achieve the ambitious temperature goals adopted in the landmark Paris Agreement on climate change, the U.N. said Thursday in a sobering report that warned of a human tragedy unless governments stepped up efforts to fight global warming.

The U.N. Environment Program said the world needs to slash its annual greenhouse gas emissions by an additional 12 billion-14 billion metric tons by 2030 to have a chance of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). That's the temperature goal that countries agreed to in the Paris pact, which takes effect Friday after countries ratified it much faster than anticipated.

To put the challenge into perspective, UNEP noted that the gap is 12 times the annual emissions of the 28-nation European Union's transport sector, including aviation.

"The science shows that we need to move much faster," said UNEP leader Erik Solheim. "The growing numbers of climate refugees hit by hunger, poverty, illness and conflict will be a constant reminder of our failure to deliver."

Solheim said increased efforts by governments need to start with the U.N. climate conference being held over the coming two weeks in Marrakech, Morocco.

The 2-degree target is relative to before the industrial revolution, when scientists say humans started altering the climate system by releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, primarily carbon dioxide from fossil fuels. Temperatures have already gone up by about 1 degree C since then.

In its annual emissions report, UNEP projected that annual emissions cannot exceed 42 billion tons of CO2 by 2030 for the world to have a chance to meet the 2-degree goal. But even with the reductions pledged for the Paris Agreement, emissions are set to reach 54 billion-56 billion tons in 2030, which leaves the world on a path of 2.9 -3.4 degrees C of warming, UNEP said.

Last year was the warmest on record and this year is on track to be even warmer, preliminary analyses show.

Scientists say the buildup of CO2 and other greenhouse gases is raising temperatures by trapping heat in the atmosphere. As a result, glaciers and ice sheets are melting, sea levels are rising and many parts of the world are experiencing more intense heat waves and droughts.

The 2-degree target was established as a threshold to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. But the Paris deal also set an aspirational goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F), a demand from the most vulnerable countries, such as low-lying island nations that may not survive the sea-level rise associated with 2 degrees of warming.

To have a shot at 1.5 degrees C, the world needs to slash annual emissions by an additional 15 billion-17 billion tons by 2030, the UNEP report said.

Some analysts question whether that's even feasible, given current emissions trends. Global emissions increase every year, reaching 52.7 billion tons in 2014, primarily driven by the rapid expansion of China, India and other Asian economies. China is the world's largest polluter, followed by the United States.

Emissions from fossil fuels — the biggest source of emissions — have stabilized in recent years, but UNEP's report said it's too early to say whether that's a temporary or a permanent change.

This year countries took another step to limit emissions by agreeing to slash the use of hydrofluorocarbons, a powerful greenhouse gas used in refrigerators, freezers and air conditioners. UNEP noted that early studies suggest the move could cut 0.5 degrees C of warming if fully implemented.

Low-hanging fruit ripe for the picking
Marlowe Hood AFP Yahoo News 4 Nov 16;

Paris (AFP) - Earth is hurtling deep into the red zone of dangerous global warming, but experts say there are some low cost, effective options for putting on the brakes.

Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, UN members pledged to cap rising temperatures at less than two degrees Celsius (2.6 degrees Fahrenheit) compared to pre-industrial era levels.

The big culprit is CO2, the byproduct of fossil fuels that provide the backbone of today's energy supply.

But addressing indirect CO2 emissions -- and warming sources that are not from CO2 -- offer complementary ways of slowing the temperature rise.

"The overarching objective is crystal clear: we need to cut CO2 emissions, and we need to do it as quickly as possible," said Rachel Cleetus at the Washington-based advocacy group, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

Here are some of the main options:

- HFCs -

Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are the poster child of potential "low-hanging fruit" in the carbon cleanup.

These are gases used in air conditioning and refrigeration -- invented, ironically, to replace other gases that had ripped a hole in the ozone layer. And they are viciously effective at trapping solar heat -- one type of HFC is more than 15,000 times more efficient than CO2 in this regard.

An amendment to the 1987 Montreal Protocol signed by nearly 200 countries last month assures the phase out of HFCs by mid-century, avoiding up to a 0.5C (0.9F) of global warming by 2100.

- Black carbon -

Black carbon –- more commonly known as soot –- consists of dark particles cast off by the inefficient burning of diesel fuel, wood and other biomass such as dung.

Like CO2, soot contributes to warming in the atmosphere.

But it causes far more damage by settling on snow at high altitude and in the Arctic, regions warming twice as fast as the global average.

Pristine snow reflect more than 80 percent of solar radiation back into space. But when blanketed by soot, it absorb heat instead.

Implementing known solutions "could reduce soot by 70 to 80 percent," said Drew Shindell, a professor at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

- Methane leaks -

The second biggest contributor to global warming after CO2 -- methane -- comes mainly from oil and gas production leakage, livestock, and rice paddies.

Global emissions of methane have been rising sharply since 2007, and may be twice as high as previously thought, according to an assessment published last month in Nature.

A large slice of that increase comes from the booming shale gas industry in the United States, said Stefan Schwietzke, a scientist at the UN National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and lead author of the study.

The good news, he told AFP, is that this jump also means greater "potential to reduce climate forcing from this specific source is also greater."

"We have calculated that -– if you put into place all the existing, proven methods to reduce methane and soot -- you could slow the rate of global warming over the next three decades by about half-a-degree Celsius," Shindell noted.

- Agriculture -

Global livestock -- mainly cows and sheep, both gas-passing ruminants -– is probably a larger source of methane than the fossil fuel industry, according to Doug Boucher, a scientist at the UCS.

"There are some technical ways of reducing methane, such as improving feed for cattle," he told AFP. "But the real potential comes from shifting diets away from high-emission foods, especially beef."

Even switching from beef to chicken or pork would have a big impact, reducing emissions by almost the same amount as if all beef-eaters become vegetarians.

But weaning North and South Americans -– by far the biggest consumers of beef -– from hamburgers and T-bone steaks is easier said than done.

"There is a very strong resistance, culturally," Boucher said. "It is considered food-policing."

Another simple target is food waste.

About a third of all food produced in the world is lost during production or consumption, according to the UN, accounting for about eight percent of greenhouse gas emissions.

- Plant trees -

A different approach to fighting climate change is to enhance the Earth's natural capacity to soak up carbon, a job done mainly by oceans and forests.

Scientists at Woods Hole Research Center in Falmouth, Massachusetts, for example, are mapping the world's land area -– excluding active agricultural and urban landscapes -– that humans have cleared of forests over the centuries.

"We calculate that on the order of 100 to 200 billion tonnes of carbon could be put back onto land," scientist Richard Houghton told AFP, cautioning that the study is not yet complete.

That is roughly equivalent to a dozen years of global CO2 emissions.

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