Emis­sions must slow by 2020

Past then, only a ‘jump to dis­tress’ can save planet

The Observer - - NEWS WORLD - Ian John­ston The In­de­pen­dent

THE world has three years to start mak­ing sig­nif­i­cant re­duc­tions in green­house gas emis­sions or face the prospect of dan­ger­ous global warm­ing, ex­perts have warned in an ar­ti­cle in pres­ti­gious jour­nal Na­ture.

Call­ing for world lead­ers to be guided by the sci­en­tific ev­i­dence rather than “hide their heads in the sand”, they said “en­tire ecosys­tems” were al­ready be­gin­ning to col­lapse, sum­mer sea ice was dis­ap­pear­ing in the Arc­tic and co­ral reefs were dy­ing from the heat.

The world could emit enough car­bon to bust the Paris Agree­ment tar­get of be­tween 1.5–2 de­grees in four to 26 years if cur­rent lev­els con­tin­ued, the ar­ti­cle said.

Global emis­sions had been ris­ing rapidly but plateaued in re­cent years. The ex­perts, led by Chris­tiana Figueres – who as Ex­ec­u­tive Sec­re­tary of the United Na­tions Frame­work Con­ven­tion on Cli­mate Change played a key role in the Paris Agree­ment – said they must start to fall rapidly from 2020 at the lat­est.

“The year 2020 is cru­cially im­por­tant for an­other rea­son, one that has more to do with physics than pol­i­tics,” they said.

Cit­ing a re­port pub­lished in April, they added: “Should emis­sions con­tinue to rise be­yond 2020, or even re­main level, the tem­per­a­ture goals set in Paris be­come al­most unattain­able.

“Low­er­ing emis­sions glob­ally is a mon­u­men­tal task, but re­search tells us that it is nec­es­sary, de­sir­able and achiev­able.”

The ar­ti­cle was signed by more than 60 sci­en­tists, such as Pro­fes­sor Michael Mann of Penn­syl­va­nia State Univer­sity; politi­cians, in­clud­ing former Mex­i­can Pres­i­dent Felipe Calderon and ex-Ir­ish Pres­i­dent Mary Robin­son; busi­ness peo­ple such as Paul Pol­man, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Unilever; in­vest­ment man­agers; en­vi­ron­men­tal campaigners and oth­ers.

Since the 1880s, the world’s tem­per­a­ture has risen by about one de­gree be­cause of green­house gases re­sult­ing from hu­man ac­tiv­ity – a process pre­dicted by a Swedish No­bel Prizewin­ning sci­en­tist in 1895.

The Na­ture ar­ti­cle laid out the ef­fect of this sud­den in­crease on the planet.

“Ice sheets in Green­land and Antarc­tica are al­ready los­ing mass at an in­creas­ing rate,” it said. “Sum­mer sea ice is dis­ap­pear­ing in the Arc­tic and co­ral reefs are dy­ing from heat stress – en­tire ecosys­tems are start­ing to col­lapse.”

And it added: “The so­cial im­pacts of cli­mate change from in­ten­si­fied heat­waves, droughts and sea-level rise are in­ex­orable and af­fect the poor­est and weak­est first.”

Hu­man­ity is emit­ting about 41 gi­ga­tonnes of car­bon diox­ide a year, but if the Paris tar­get is to be met it has a car­bon “bud­get” of be­tween only 150 and 1050 gi­ga­tonnes.

“If the cur­rent rate of an­nual emis­sions stays at this level, we would have to drop them al­most im­me­di­ately to zero once we ex­haust the bud­get. Such a ‘jump to dis­tress’ is in no one’s in­ter­est. A more grad­ual de­scent would al­low the global econ­omy time to adapt smoothly,” the ex­perts wrote.

“It is still pos­si­ble to meet the Paris tem­per­a­ture goals if emis­sions be­gin to fall by 2020 ... those in power must stand up for sci­ence.”

PHOTO: MARK SCHIEFELBEIN/AP

RE­LENT­LESS: Work pro­ceeds at an open cut coal mine near Or­dos in north­ern China’s In­ner Mon­go­lia Au­ton­o­mous Re­gion. The world’s big­gest coal users – China, the US and In­dia – have boosted coal min­ing this year.

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