If robust political will can be mustered by world governments and corresponding action, not rhetoric, implemented to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent worldwide by 2020, scientists say that there's still hope to stave off the worst impacts of global warming and climate change.
Releasing their latest update on Friday at the Doha Climate talks in Qatar, scientists at the Climate Action Tracker (CAT)—a joint project of Climate Analytics, Ecofys and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research—said the window for reversing emissions trends is narrowing, but hasn’t closed.
“Delay means dumping the enormous costs of action or the even larger costs from climate impacts on the next generation – our children and grandchildren.” —Michiel Schaeffer, scientist
Limiting a global temperature increase this century to below 2ºC was the only relevant agreement determined at previous UN-sponsored climate talks and remains the overarching goal that surrounds international emission reduction agreements. The CAT report says that achieving such a goal, and even a more ambitious goal of 1.5ºC, remains technically and economically feasible, but only "with political ambition backed by rapid action starting now."
“Two degrees is feasible. It’s possible, but we have to start now, not wait until 2020 to act,” said Bill Hare, head of Climate Analytics. “If we wait, we won’t have many choices left. ”
As Inter Press Service's Stephen Leahy puts it, the CAT report "shows that global warming can be kept well under two degrees C, but only if most of the known deposits of coal, oil and gas remain in the ground."
Rapid action before 2020 means far lower costs – less than one percent of global GDP when spread over a number of years. Delay means far higher costs and dubious strategies like massive biofuel plantations, more nuclear plants, and as yet unproven large-scale carbon capture and storage.
If emissions do not peak and decline before 2020, it is still technically possible to stay below two degrees. However, depending on how high the emission peak is, it could be far too expensive to accomplish, as well as having enormous social impacts, said [CAT's Michael] Schaeffer.
“Delay means dumping the enormous costs of action or the even larger costs from climate impacts on the next generation – our children and grandchildren,” he said.
Time to 'Act Impatiently'
Meanwhile on Friday, head of the UN Climate Change Secretariat, Christiana Figueres, suggested in a news conference that the current pace of progress in Doha was inadequate and predicted that likely outcome would "delight no one".
"My call here is for all of us to act impatiently," Figueres told reporters. She added that government leaders have not been put under enough pressure by the people of their own countries to make the tough choices demanded by the crisis.
"I don't see perhaps as much public interest, support for governments to take on more ambitious and more courageous decisions," she said. Acknowledging that nations continue put their own self-interest ahead of all else, Figueres said that the Doha agreement will not be "at the level of ambition that we need."
Climate Change is Here. Now.
A flurry of new climate studies (here, here, here, here and more here) have been released to coincide with the talks in Doha, all of them heightening the scientific alarm that seems to fall on political deaf ears in the halls of world governments.
As one of the preminent climatologists in the world, NASA's James Hansen, wrote today: "No credible scientist disputes that we have warmed our climate by almost 1.5C over land areas in the past century, most of that in the past 30 years."
And on Tuesday, environmental campaigners Bill McKibben, Nnimmo Bassey and Pablo Solon, urged climate negotiators in Doha to go far beyond what they currently seem willing to do, writing:
Negotiators should cease their face-saving, their endless bracketing and last minute cooking of texts and concentrate entirely on figuring out how to live within the carbon budget scientists set. We can't emit more than 565 more gigatons of carbon before 2050, but at the current pace we'll blow past that level in 15 years. If we want to have a chance to stick to this budget by 2020 we can’t send to the atmosphere more than 200 gigatons.
Rich countries who have poured most of the carbon into the atmosphere (especially the planet's sole superpower) need to take the lead in emission reductions and the emerging economies have also to make commitments to reduce the exploitation of oil, coal and gas. The right to development should be understood as the obligation of the states to guarantee the basic needs of the population to enjoy a fulfilled and happy life, and not as a free ticket for a consumer and extractivist society that doesn’t take into account the limits of the planet and the wellbeing of all humans.
For a specific plan to curb carbon emissions and transition to a clean energy future, Hansen argues for a 'carbon fee and dividend' scheme that would put a price on carbon at the point of extraction and return a fixed dividend to consumers. He explains:
A carbon fee, collected from fossil fuel companies, will increase consumer costs. So the money that is collected should be distributed to the public. As people try to minimize their energy costs to keep money for other things, their actions will stimulate the economy, drive innovations and transition us away from fossil fuels.
If we make our demand for action clear enough, I am optimistic that our leaders in Washington can look beyond the short-term challenges of today to see the looming, long-term threats ahead, and the answer that is right in front of them. We can't simply allow the next news cycle to distract us from the real task ahead.
And Thursday, Kumi Naidoo of Greenpeace International sounded his group's call to action by saying:
Doha is already infamous for dead-end trade talks. One more failure and it will be forever known as the place where global deals go to die. Instead, what we need to see is a signal, a sign of life, that all governments really understand what is at stake.
We need to see them put people and the planet before the polluters and their profits. We need to see a sign that they are prepared to act accordingly.