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Updated: January 16, 2014 05:20 IST

Massive investments, emission cuts needed: U.N. climate science panel

Nitin Sethi
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Emissions grew by 2.2% on average during 2000-10

The U.N. climate science panel’s yet to be released report will come up with a dire warning that the world would have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40-70% below 2010 levels by 2050 in order to have a fair chance to keep the rise in the global temperature below 2 degree Celsius.

This warning is one of the key summations in the Fifth Assessment report of Working Group III of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The Hindu accessed the final draft of the report’s summary for policymakers, which works like a synopsis of the voluminous science on how the world can reduce emissions. The summary is going to be an integral input into the climate negotiations for the 2015 global deal. The final draft is to be negotiated once by the government representatives before it is released to public in the later half of 2014.

In contrast to the drastic reduction required in emissions to keep temperatures below dangerous levels, the report notes, emissions have grown by 2.2% on average during 2000-10 and the recession has not abated the growth of emissions which clocked at 3% growth during 2010-11 and 1-2% during 2011-2012.

Tight control

The summary says that maintaining global temperature rise below 2 degree Celsius would require the concentration of greenhouse gases between 430-480 parts per million (ppm) of Carbon dioxide equivalent by the turn of century and keeping peak concentration levels below 515 ppm. The concentration of emissions has already breached the 400 ppm limits and is growing rapidly. With such tight control on emissions, the chances of keeping the temperature within safe range would be between 66-100%.

The report notes that keeping the emission concentration levels under this limit would require tripling or even quadrupling of the renewable and other clean energy production by 2050 compared to 2010 levels.

Considering the low ambition the countries have shown to take action in the short run, the report warns that delaying mitigation through 2030 will increase the challenges and reduce the options for keeping emissions within the dangerous levels. The world might be forced to deploy yet-untested technological changes which tamper with natural climatic processes at a large scale.

Consumption losses

The report acknowledges that such massive transformation of economies will come at great costs. Even under what would be ideal conditions, the actions to keep emissions within check would lead to global consumption losses by 1-4% in 2030, 2-6% in 2050 and 2-12% in 2100 compared to business as usual emission rates.

The varied levels of growth of economies have made the authors of the report also put the question before the countries of how the burden of reducing emissions would be shared. A majority of accumulated GHG emissions so far have originated from the rich countries that have relatively low population levels but the spurt of economic growth in emerging economies is increasing current emissions. The ratio in per capita emissions between developed and poor countries is 9 times for the median value. At the same time, these developing countries such as India and China are building up massive new infrastructure where the potential to reduce emissions exists at lower costs. To be able to do so, the report says, “The financial transfers to ameliorate this asymmetry could be in the order of hundred billions of USD per year before mid-century to bring concentration in the range of 450 ppm of Carbon dioxide equivalent by 2100.”

What it has to say about the current level of commitment by countries to fight climate change is not new but the U.N. climate science panel officially admitting it promises to get these figures used in the political negotiations. The IPCC says in its reports, “The Cancun pledges are broadly consistent with scenarios reaching 550-650 ppm Carbon dioxide equivalent ppm by 2100.” The Cancun pledges refer to the commitments countries made to cut the emissions between 2010 and 2020. The 550-650 ppm emission concentration mark refers to the levels where the chance of preventing dangerous climate change is less than 33%. The scientists’ panel notes, the pledges ‘correspond to scenarios that explicitly delay mitigation through 2020 or beyond relative to what would achieve lowest global cost.”

In other words, the pledges are so weak that the countries are basically delaying taking the level of action required to fight climate change.

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