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UN Scientists Say Emission Pledges Fall Well Short of Halting Climate Change

Promises by 80 nations leave multi-billion ton gap if the worst consequences of global warming are to be avoided

John Vidal

Even if countries do all they have promised in cutting emissions, a shortfall of 9 billion tonnes a year will remain. (Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

UN research shows that the pledges and promises made last year by 80 countries to reduce climate change
emissions fall well short of what is needed to hold the global
temperature rise to 2C and avoid the worst consequences of global

The findings by 30 leading scientists suggest that if
countries do everything they have promised, there will still be a 5bn
tonne gap per year between their ambition and what the science says is
needed. This gap, said the UN, is the equivalent of the emissions
released by all the world's vehicles in a year. Many countries have
committed themselves to holding temperature rises to no more than 2C
(3.6F) by 2080 but to achieve this global emissions must be reduced from
56bn tonnes annually today to 44bn tonnes by 2020.

If only the weakest pledges made last year in the Copenhagen accord are implemented, emissions could be lowered to 53bn tonnes a year by 2020, leaving a gap of 9bn tonnes.

the best case, says the report, emissions could drop to 49bn tonnes,
reducing the gap to 5bn. But if nothing is done, then the emissions gap
would rise to 12bn tonnes by 2020 – roughly what all the world's power
stations emit.

The report, released in London ahead of next week's climate change summit in Cancun, Mexico,
will become a key document at the UN talks, adding weight to developing
countries' demands for more ambitious cuts by big emitters. Tonight it
was welcomed by the energy and climate change secretary, Chris Huhne,
who said: "[It] shows that despite some progress the world still needs
to go further and faster in cutting emissions – and that includes the EU
which must accept a more ambitious goal, of a 30% cut in emissions by 2020."

Steiner, UN environment programme director, said: "There is a gap
between the science and current ambition levels. But, what this report
shows is that the options on the table right now in the negotiations can
get us almost 60% of the way there. It can be bridged by higher
ambition by developed and developing countries, perhaps complemented by
action on a range of other pollutants such as methane from waste tips,
animal wastes and the black carbon from the inefficient burning of
biomass." The scientists said that the faster emissions are cut now,
the easier it will be later to hold temperatures steady. "To hold
temperatures to no more than a 1.5C rise, a figure which more than half
the world's countries are pressing for, would need annual 4-5% cuts in
emissions after 2020," said UNep chief scientist Joseph Alcamo.

said the consequences of allowing temperatures to rise over 2C were
serious. "Over 2C the intergovernmental panel on climate change (Ipcc)
suggests there is an increasing risk of icecaps melting, leading to sea
level rises, and increased risk of extreme weather events like droughts
and floods."The UN report does not put a figure on the potential cost of
reducing emissions, but Steiner said that even in a recession it should
be possible to find because between $500 and 700bn a year is presently
used to subsidise fossil fuels.

UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon
called on countries to make good on their pledges and to further the
negotiations in Cancun. "There is no time to waste," he said. "By
closing the gap between the science and current ambition levels, we can
seize the opportunity to usher in a new era of low-carbon prosperity and
sustainable development for all."

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