Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Climate Change: Rising Harmful Emissions Trigger Grave Concern

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

By Jaya Ramachandran

Courtesy IDN-InDepth NewsReport

BONN (IDN) - The United Nations' top climate change official has expressed profound concern over a report that greenhouse gas emissions emerging from energy generation around the world have reached record levels in 2010.

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), considers the latest estimates of the International Energy Agency (IEA) "a stark warning to governments to provide strong new progress this year towards global solutions to climate change."

"This is the inconvenient truth of where human-generated greenhouse gas emissions are projected to go without much stronger international action now . . . and into the future," Figueres said.

The warning came in run-up to the global gathering form June 6 to 17 in Bonn, Germany, to prepare for the next major international climate conference to be held in Durban, South Africa, at the end of the year.

"It is clear that they need to push the world further down the right track to avoid dangerous climate change," the UN's top climate change official said. "I won't hear that this is impossible. Governments must make it possible for society, business and science to get this job done," she added.

The latest IEA estimates published on May 30 – as world's major economy, Germany, announced that it would quit atomic power in 2020 -- show that energy-related CO2 emissions in 2010 were at their highest level in history, following a brief dip in 2009 due to the economic impacts of the global financial crisis.

After a dip in 2009 caused by the global financial crisis, emissions are estimated to have climbed to a record 30.6 Gigatonnes (Gt), a 5 percent jump from the previous record year in 2008, when levels reached 29.3 Gt, the Paris-based organisation said.

In addition, the IEA has estimated that 80 percent of projected emissions from the power sector in 2020 are already locked in, as they will come from power plants that are currently in place or under construction today.

"This significant increase in CO2 emissions and the locking in of future emissions due to infrastructure investments represent a serious setback to our hopes of limiting the global rise in temperature to no more than 2 C (two degrees centigrade)," said Dr. Fatih Birol, Chief Economist at the IEA who oversees the annual World Energy Outlook, the Agency's flagship publication.

Global leaders agreed a target of limiting temperature increase to 2 C at the UN climate change talks in Cancun in 2010. For this goal to be achieved, the long-term concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere must be limited to around 450 parts per million of CO2-equivalent, only a 5 percent increase compared to an estimated 430 parts per million in 2000, the IEA said.

The IEA's 2010 World Energy Outlook set out the 450 Scenario, an energy pathway consistent with achieving this goal, based on the emissions targets countries have agreed to reach by 2020. For this pathway to be achieved, global energy-related emissions in 2020 must not be greater than 32 Gt. This means that over the next ten years, emissions must rise less in total than they did between 2009 and 2010, the IEA argues.

"Our latest estimates are another wake-up call," said Dr Birol. "The world has edged incredibly close to the level of emissions that should not be reached until 2020 if the 2 C target is to be attained. Given the shrinking room for manœuvre in 2020, unless bold and decisive decisions are made very soon, it will be extremely challenging to succeed in achieving this global goal agreed in Cancun."

In terms of fuels, 44 percent of the estimated CO2 emissions in 2010 came from coal, 36 percent from oil, and 20 percent from natural gas.

The IEA pointed out that the challenge of improving and maintaining quality of life for people in all countries while limiting CO2 emissions has never been greater. While the IEA estimates that 40 percent of global emissions came from OECD countries in 2010, these countries only accounted for 25 percent of emissions growth compared to 2009. Non-OECD countries -- led by China and India -- saw much stronger increases in emissions as their economic growth accelerated.

However, on a per capita basis, OECD countries, also described as "rich man's club", collectively emitted 10 tonnes, compared with 5.8 tonnes for China, and 1.5 tonnes in India.

Referring to the upcoming round of UN climate change negotiations in Bonn, UNFCCC executive secretary Figueres said: "No nation will solve climate change alone. And no nation is alone in feeling its impacts. We're only a few days away now from the mid-year climate negotiations and governments need to pick up speed."

In Cancun, governments launched the most comprehensive package ever agreed to help developing nations deal with climate change, including a set of new international institutions to deliver that support.

They also agreed a major effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but left open the question of how to raise their collective level of ambition to keep the global temperature rise at least below two degrees.

Figueres said that, in Durban, governments will have two main challenges that they have agreed to resolve:

-- To strengthen the international conditions that will allow nations to work together to make deeper global emission cuts. This includes the question of deciding the future of the Kyoto Protocol.

-- To agree on the effective designs of the new climate institutions that will provide adequate and efficient climate support to developing countries. This includes the Green Climate Fund, Technology Mechanism and establishing the Adaptation Committee.

"In the wider world, I see two very encouraging trends," said Figueres. "Countries, including the biggest economies, are moving forward with new policies that promote low-carbon prosperous growth, even if they don't always attach climate labels to these policies. And the private sector continues to increase its investment in low-carbon business and renewable energy and wants to do more."

"In Durban at the end of the year, governments need to take the new steps that will drive both these trends forward and much faster," she said. "The meeting in Bonn is a major opportunity to prepare these essential steps," she added.

With 195 Parties, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has near universal membership and is the parent treaty of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol has been ratified by 193 of the UNFCCC Parties.

Under the Protocol, 37 States, consisting of highly industrialized countries and countries undergoing the process of transition to a market economy, have legally binding emission limitation and reduction commitments.

The ultimate objective of both treaties is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that will prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system.