No More Hot Air: New Report Holds Countries Accountable to 2 Degree Global Warming Pledge

Last month, our friends at Germanwatch published a report that lays out near-term strategies for countries, international climate negotiators, and non-governmental institutions through 2020 that can keep the world on a greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions pathway to limit the average global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius. The report, entitled “Short-Term Mitigation Ambition Pre-2020: Opportunities to Close the Emissions Gap,” enumerates a variety of measures – including the phase-out of fossil fuel subsidies, closing emission loopholes in the Kyoto Protocol, meeting national emission reduction targets beyond those pledged in the international climate negotiation processes, and strengthening multinational, multi-sector alliances – and quantifies the emission reduction potential of each action.

The new report is an important supplement to a 2010 study conducted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which calculated the gap between the emissions limit required to stay below the global warming threshold of 2 degrees Celsius and the current business-as-usual (BAU) emissions trajectory. UNEP projected that under BAU, annual global GHG emissions will rise to 56 Gt CO2e by 2020, 12 Gt more per year than the 44 Gt limit that would keep the 2 degree warming level achievable. Lending further support to calls for closing this emissions gap, in 2011 the International Energy Agency projected that without new policies to tackle climate change, the world is on track for an average warming of 6 degrees Celsius or more.

Greenhouse gas emission and global warming scenarios (source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change)

The most recent assessment report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimated global average temperature increase for several emissions scenarios through the end of the century (see table). Today, atmospheric CO2 concentrations are already at the brink of 400 parts per million (ppm), which makes staying below the 2 degree mark very unlikely without strong, swift action to reverse the growth of CO2 emissions in the next two years.

For too long, countries around the world have been able to hide behind a general commitment to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius without undertaking the necessary emissions cuts. The new report from Germanwatch adds an essential contribution to the emissions gap discussion by holding countries accountable to this 2 degree pledge by specifying achievable, concrete, and near-term actions that they can take to keep this goal within sight.

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