Countries’ Pledges to Cut Emissions Won’t Stay Within 2 Degrees Limit Set by UN Paris Agreement

July 15, 2016

 


 

 


 



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Story Transcript

SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

It’s been just over six months since the Paris climate agreement was signed. The purpose of the agreement is to stop the rise in global average temperatures to well below 2 degrees Celsius and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5.

To date, 178 countries have signed the agreement. These countries then submitted plans to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change outlining what climate actions they intend to take after 2020–that’s year 2020. These submissions are known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions indices.

Our next guest recently co-authored a scientific report, published in the journal Nature, which analyzes the indices and finds them sadly lacking at the task at hand.

Joining us now from Luxembourg, Austria, is Dr. Joeri Rogelj [IPA /jɜːri ˈroʊgəl/]. He’s a research scholar at the energy program of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis. He’s a lead author on several policy synthesis reports by the UN environment program and is contributing author of the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Thanks for joining us, Dr. Rogelj.

DR. JOERI ROGELJ, RESEARCH SCHOLAR, IIASA: Thank you. You’re welcome. Thank you for having me.

PERIES: So let’s just begin with the pledges that each country has made thus far. Are they adequate in addressing the problem at hand?

ROGELJ: Well, adequacy of the pledges has to be seen in the larger framework or the larger context of the Paris Agreement. And as you already indicated, the Paris Agreement aims at limiting warming to well below 2 degrees and pursuing efforts to limit warming to 1.5.

From the geophysical side of the problem, it means that we need to keep global emissions within a certain emission budget or carbon budget. That means that at a certain moment in time, the emissions, the global emissions, need to become zero in order for this budget not to continue to be accumulated.

Now, at this point the pledges–or the INDCs, as we call them–they do not put us yet on a pathway that will actually reach and will reach this budget or will stay within this budget during the 21st century.

PARK: Now, one of the disturbing assessments from your report is that in all likelihood we will exceed that 1.5 degree mark that’s been set in terms of limiting temperature rise. How did you come to that conclusion from your assessment?

ROGELJ: Well, what we did: we did, actually, a meta-analysis of various literature studies that were out there in the public, and we tried to understand exactly how they relate to each other. From this we then get a more robust assessment of what emissions or what the INDCs will add up to in the year 2030. And because limiting warming to below 1.5 implies that we have a very tight budget of emissions that we still can emit, we found that with the current pledges, or the pledges that are currently on the table, this emission budget would already be exhausted by 2030.

PERIES: And you also mentioned in your earlier answer the concept or idea of carbon budget. What is a carbon budget, and what is it that we’re trying to get at in this nation submissions?

ROGELJ: Yeah. So, as I mentioned earlier, in the last IPCC Assessment Report it was assessed that global mean temperature rise is roughly proportional to the total cumulative amount of carbon dioxide emissions that we put in the atmosphere. That is because CO2 stays for a very long time in the atmosphere and just kind of accumulates, as if we would continue to dump it into the atmosphere. Now, this is a approximation, but in broad terms that means that to limit warming to below any level–let it be 1.5, 2, or 3 degrees–we need to limit the total amount of CO2 that we put into the atmosphere ever. And these are the so-called carbon budgets.

Now, we can derive these carbon budgets and we can understand how large they are for (for example) limiting warming to below 2 degrees.

Now, if we, on the other hand, understand, from the pledges and the INDCs that countries have put forward, where emissions will lead to in the coming decades, we can see how far our emissions are in line with these cumulative budgets or not.

PERIES: And in terms of what you concluded about the indices in this result, in terms of climate change, what does that actually mean?

ROGELJ: So the current pledges, or the current INDCs, they go up to maximum 2030. So then we have to assume what happens afterwards.

Now, if we assume that the amount of effort that goes into achieving the INDCs would be continued over the 21st century (that means that emissions do not rise again after 2030), then still the global mean temperatures would rise to around 2.6 to 3.1 degrees by the end of the century; so, largely exceeding the temperature limit of 2 degrees set by the Paris Agreement.

PERIES: Now, in the Paris Agreement there’s a concept of equity spelled out in detail. What does this mean for countries?

ROGELJ: No, the equity concept, or equity within the context of the Paris Agreement and of climate mitigation, means that not every country has contributed equally to the problem, and also not every country has equal means to tackle the problem, and therefore some kind of fair burden sharing or fair share of emission mitigation needs to be attributed to each country. And this is a concept that is well ingrained in the Paris agreement. And this means that, for example, developing countries that have contributed relatively little to the problem yet have a large potential to mitigate future emissions might want to rely or could rely on financial or financing from elsewhere.

PERIES: Now, on Monday I read a report that some 800,000 people showed up to plant trees, called for by the government in India. Are these kinds of small efforts going to help the overall picture?

ROGELJ: Well, the climate mitigation challenge, or the challenge to limit warming to well below 2 degrees, or further to 1.5, is really huge. And there is not really a single silver bullet solution that will bring us there. So in a way, yes, every small step does help and does contribute to a solution.

On the other hand, only planting trees, we will not get there. The kind of transitions that we need in the way that we produce energy, in the way that we transport ourselves, even in our agricultural systems, are much larger than just a few trees.

PERIES: Alright. I thank you so much for joining us, Dr. Rogelj, today.

ROGELJ: You’re welcome. Thank you very much.

PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End

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