At the COP 15 in Copenhagen (2009), the United States supported what amounts to a “pledge and review” system, where parties would make voluntary pledges, with a shared commitment to keeping the world from warming more than 2 degrees centigrade. The following year, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) authored a study showing that with the pledges on the table, there was still a 5 – 9 gigaton gap. Simply put, the pledges were not ambitious enough to meet the emission reduction targets. The “emissions gap” is now a commonplace term here at the COP, and the UNEP estimates the gap will between 8 and 13 gigatons by 2020 if nothing more is done. The emissions have continued to increase from 40 billion tons in 2000 to the current 50 billion tons, and 58 billion tons expected by 2020 with no further action.
This year, there is another study that has been widely discussed. Published by the World Bank a few weeks before the COP and just over a week before Hurricane Sandy hit the New York and New Jersey shorelines, this report reviews the scientific literature and outlines the impacts and risks to our world if the average temperature rises by 4 degrees centigrade. Extreme weather events will be the new normal. The report is available online at: http://climatechange.worldbank.org/content/climate-change-report-warns-dramatically-warmer-world-century. Essentially, even with the pledges on the table, we are likely to warm 4 degrees unless more ambitious targets are in place.
In What Next, www.whatnext.orgKevin Anderson has written that a responsible way to approach climate change is to “mitigate for 2° C and to plan for 4° C.” His colleague Alice Bows observed that we are, in fact, doing just the opposite: “mitigating for 4° C (by doing almost nothing to reduce emissions), while only preparing for 2° C.” What might this look like? Again, check out the World Bank report.
Clearly this decade matters, and if a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol is determined, let’s all hope it’s ambitious.