"Back Burner" Policies Push Carbon Emissions to Record Levels: Report

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Common Dreams

"Back Burner" Policies Push Carbon Emissions to Record Levels: Report

IEA study says global average temperature increase will likely double international target of 2C

by
Lauren McCauley, staff writer

Because of coal-fired power plants such as this one in West Virginia, the world is set to double the initial global warming goal of 2C. (Photo: WigwamJones/ Flickr)

Carbon emissions and government policies which have pushed climate change to the "back burner" have put the world on track for a temperature increase between 3.6º and 5.3º C, according to a new report by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The annual World Energy Outlook report, Redrawing the Energy Climate Map (pdf), estimates that global average temperature rise is likely to double the target of 2ºC above pre-industrial levels, which was set by the United Nations and has been internationally agreed upon as the limit to avoid worst-case-scenario increases in droughts, storms, floods and sea level rises.

According to climate scientists, such changes could have catastrophic consequences with widespread displacement of populations, disruptions to agriculture and drinking water, the spread of diseases and the extinction of species.

Further, the world's energy-related carbon dioxide emissions rose 1.4 percent in 2012 to a record high of 31.6 billion tons.

“Climate change has quite frankly slipped to the back burner of policy priorities. But the problem is not going away – quite the opposite,” said IEA chief Maria van der Hoeven. "The path we are currently on is more likely to result in a temperature increase of between 3.6 and 5.3 C (6.5-9.5F)."

The report comes as climate negotiators are meeting in Bonn, Germany to "haggle over" the content of a global climate pact, reports AP.

"The main sticking point," they continue, "is how best to divide the burden of emissions cuts between developed and developing countries," who say the bulk of the responsibility lay with "long-time carbon polluters" Europe and the United States.

Focusing specifically on making reductions "without harming economic growth," the industry-friendly IEA soft pedals their recommendations, advocating for increased investment in energy efficiency for buildings, industry and transport, limiting the construction of coal-fired power stations, cutting the escape of methane gas when extracting oil and gas, and a partial phasing-out of fossil fuel subsidies—rather than promoting a more dramatic shift to renewable forms of energy and closing oil and gas fields currently in production. 

According to the report, these recommendations could cut emissions from the sector by 3.1 gigatonnes by 2020.

“The IEA report comes at a crucial moment for the UN Climate Change negotiations and for global efforts to address climate change at all levels,” said Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN climate change agency, in a statement from Bonn.

“Once again we are reminded that there is a gap between current efforts and the engagement necessary to keep the world below a 2°C temperature rise. Once again we are reminded that the gap can be closed this decade, using proven technologies and known policies, and without harming economic growth in any region of the world,” she added.

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