2020 global greenhouse gas emissions set to exceed dangerous levels by one third

October 7th, 2010 by WWF

Under current policy settings, global greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 could add up to nearly one third more than the benchmark needed to avoid dangerous climate change, according to the latest “gigatonne gap” analysis conducted by WWF.

Plugging The Gap, a paper released today at UN climate negotiations in Tianjin, China, shows that recent science sets an emissions budget of 40 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent in 2020 to avoid dangerous climate change. However, the world is currently on track to reach emissions levels of 47.9 to 53.6 gigatonnes in 2020. This figure is based on reductions promised by major economies at Copenhagen.

“While it’s clear that some countries are waking up to the transformations they will need to make to create a low carbon economy, other countries have failed to grasp the need for deep carbon reductions now, and are risking the safety and prosperity of all as a result,” said Keith Allott, Head of Climate Change at WWF-UK “The climate talks in Tianjin need to see at least some indications that this trend changing.”

Fossil fuel burning cars at North Beach car park, St Peter Port on 7 October 2010 (click image to expand - ©RLLord)

WWF analysis shows that governments could close the ‘Gigatonne gap’ between what has been pledged and what is actually required, if they take action now to rapidly transform carbon-intense economies in the developed world, while ensuring financial support for enhanced climate action in developing countries, and regulating new sectors and gases currently not covered by the climate regime.

WWF warns that failure to embrace these solutions would put the world at risk of overspending its remaining carbon budget (the total amount of carbon we can still afford to emit to the atmosphere before crossing the threshold of 1.5˚C warming over pre-industrial levels). WWF analysis estimates the global carbon budget for the period 2010 to 2050 at less than 1,000 Gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions.

“It’s a simple case of the sums not adding up. If we let emissions grow to 50 Gigatonnes per year, we will have massively overspent our fixed carbon budget,” said Allott. “We need to decrease annual emissions year on year and share the remaining budget in a way that is considered fair not only to the industrialized countries that already used much of the world’s carbon budget, but also to the developing countries that had no such opportunity.”

The paper shows that setting science-based emission reduction targets in industrialized countries is the most effective solution, with the potential of stopping up to 4.3 Gigatonnes per year from being emitted to the atmosphere.

WWF is concerned that emissions calculations are considerably complicated by significant accounting loopholes which can allow double counting or even fictitious claims of emissions reductions. Closing known policy loopholes and accounting tricks currently undermining the integrity of emission reduction targets would add up to another 2.4 Gigatonnes saved per year by 2020.

For instance, the potential double-counting of climate finance and emission cuts from the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) is estimated at 1 Gigatonne. Currently, such cuts can still be counted in both the inventories of developing countries where they occur and the inventories of developed countries that buy the generated CDM credits. Similarly, money spent by developed countries to buy CDM credits is often also counted as part of the finance support for developing countries they are committed to.

Truly additional financial support for developing countries to boost their low-carbon transition beyond the unilateral actions they pledge already would add another 1.7 Gigatonnes, while covering omitted sectors like shipping or aviation and eliminating non-additional CDM credits generated by projects that would have happened anyway could shrink the gap by at least 1.3 Gigatonnes.

Based on recent science, WWF’s Plugging The Gap paper outlines that global emissions in 2020 should not exceed emissions of greenhouse gases 40 Gigatonnes in order to stay clear of dangerous warming levels. However, current promises by the world’s governments will result in approximately 10 Gigatonnes more, up to 30% off the safety track.

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