Climate: Short-term greenhouse gas cuts needed to meet long-term climate goals

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Cut greenhouse gas emissions now, or risk losing the climate-change battle.

Emissions targets don’t add up to 2 degree Celsius goal quite yet

Staff Report

Setting an ambitious greenhouse-gas reduction goal is more important than ever, said researchers with the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland after carefully analyzing emissions targets set by 159 countries in the leadup to the COP21 climate talks in Paris.

“The rate of emission reductions required after 2030 might not be realistic anymore, and therefore it is critically important to make the current emission targets for 2030 more ambitious,” said VTT Senior Scientist Tommi Ekholm.

Even though developing countries have recently joined in the effort to slow down climate change by setting targets, emissions will continue to increase up to 2030, and global temperature increase can be kept below the critical two degree limit only if drastic emission reductions are carried out after 2030.

VTT studied the emission reduction targets from 159 countries (131 countries and the EU), investigating:

  • how large a reduction or increase in emissions is implied by each country’s stated target
  • the level of global greenhouse gas emissions around 2030 implied by the targets
  • the prospects of limiting global warming below two degrees Celsius

The countries that have set an emissions reduction target represent more than 90 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions, 89 percent of the global population and 95 percent of the economic production.

“Based on this, the negotiations in the Paris Climate Conference present an opportunity to achieve a comprehensive agreement on reducing emissions on a global scale,” Ekholm said.

The results of VTT’s study provide an important basis for discussion for the Paris Climate Conference that started on Monday. The aim of the negotiations is to draw up a global climate agreement applying to 196 countries that will enter into force in 2020.

China as the greatest concern

A major challenge in the study was that the countries’ emissions targets are defined in numerous ways. It is also not possible to expect all countries to make equally ambitious emissions reductions. According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change , the richest countries will assume a leading role in the emissions reductions.

The comparison shows that all developed countries have promised to reduce emissions by 20-30 percent from the current level. In contrast, the targets of developing countries vary considerably.

“Some of the developing countries aim at emissions reductions or a small increase at most, whereas the target of some countries would lead to a tripling of emissions from the current level,” Ekholm said.

Of the high-emitting countries, the one with the most room for improvement is China, whose emissions would reach 13.1 tons of carbon dioxide per person by 2030 — an increase of roughly 65 percent compared to the 2010 level. At the same time, the emissions of the USA would decrease by approximately one third to 12.8 tons per person. At that time, the total emissions of China would be almost four times as large as those of the USA.

With the current targets, the EU’s emissions per person would decrease by one third to 5.9 tons of carbon dioxide. The fourth largest emitter is the population-rich India, whose emissions per person would double to 4.2 tons of carbon dioxide.

Of the large countries in 2030, six would produce more than 10 tons of carbon dioxide per person: Russia (18 tons), Australia (13.7 tons), China (13.1 tons), Canada (12.9 tons), USA (12.8 tons) and South Korea (10.8 tons).

Publication: An analysis of countries’ climate change mitigation contributions towards the Paris agreement http://www.vtt.fi/inf/pdf/technology/2015/T239.pdf

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