UN report a wake-up call for Durban climate talks

Posted 24 November 2011
Source: http://m.wwf.org.za/media_room/news/?uNewsID=5000
A United Nations report released today showing that global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are way off track underlines the need for world leaders to make real progress at the forthcoming global climate change talks in Durban, South Africa, WWF said.

Bridging the Emissions Gap was published by the world’s leading authority on environmental issues – the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) – and it makes dire conclusions about the state of global emissions reduction efforts, while outlining how they can be rectified.

Samantha Smith, head of WWF's Global Climate and Energy Initiative, said: "This report should be a big reality check for negotiators heading into the Durban talks. It very clearly shows the world is heading for very dangerous levels of climate change if we don't take decisive action right now. The good news is that UNEP confirms that we still can get on the right path, if we move quickly to stop deforestation and shift to renewable energy. The gap is not technical or economic - it is a gap in political will and leadership.

"Realistically, nobody is expecting governments to close this gap fully in Durban. But at the very least they must avoid making the gap even bigger by agreeing to weak rules on carbon accounting - we are already in a deep hole, and it's time to stop digging."

The report found that global emissions in 2020 need to be reduced to 44 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent – well below current levels – to give a “likely” chance of keeping warming below 2°C.

However, even if governments’ most ambitious pledges are implemented in full, emissions will be 6 gigatonnes above this level – almost equivalent to the annual emissions from the United States. In practice the “gigatonne gap” is much wider – up to 11 gigatonnes – because of weak commitments and accounting loopholes in developed country targets.

Importantly, UNEP also concludes that it is still possible to close the gap by 2020 and keep levels of warming to below 1.5 or 2°C through energy efficiency, promotion of renewable energy, reductions in deforestation and improved agricultural practices. Action to tackle emissions from international aviation and shipping – which are currently unregulated – could also help.

Based on the report, all countries can and must do more to close the “gigatonne gap,” WWF said. The priority must be to increase the credibility of developed countries’ actions, by closing the accounting loopholes and raising ambition for tackling climate change in line with scientific evidence. For example, the EU needs to accept that its current commitment to cut emissions by just 20% by 2020 is widening the gap and the US, which still has no credible plan in place to meet even its weak emission reduction target, must adopt one.