The road to UNFCCC COP 18 and beyond - Energy and Climate Change Contents

5  2°C Target and Current Ambition

51. The voluntary commitments from many nations under the Copenhagen and Cancun processes still leave a trajectory that would probably result in a 3-4 °C rise in the global average temperature by 2100[64], so these commitments are clearly insufficient to meet the objective of a maximum 2 °C rise. Nevertheless, they should be welcomed as a significant step forward and they represent voluntary agreements from different nations, who might not have otherwise participated as strongly.[65]

52. The EU's 20% reduction target (based on 1990 levels) by 2020 is no longer either ambitious or challenging: the effects of the recession mean that a reduction of emissions of only six percentage points[66] between 2010 and 2020 on top of what has been achieved to date will be sufficient to meet this target.[67] WWF-UK explained how an informal "coalition for high ambition" had emerged at COP 17 in Durban, consisting of over 120 nations from the least developed countries, small island states, and the EU.[68] It claimed that the main threat to this "new and fragile" coalition was the "lack of credibility in the level of climate action in the UK and EU."[69]

53. Prof. Jouni Paavola of the University of Leeds told us that increasing the EU's ambition level to 30% made good economic sense in the current world of high energy prices.[70] Sir David King added that the context of individual EU member states reliance on imported oil and gas was a major factor in both emissions performance and their current financial difficulties, but that this point did not seem to be appreciated by policy makers:

"the Italian economy is in deficit by €38 billion per annum at the moment, roughly. Of that, since they were not in deficit, since they were in balance in the year 2000, the increased cost of imported oil to Italy is €34 billion. Most of the current deficit in Italy is due to the cost of imported oil at US$100+ [per barrel].".[71]

54. Europe's influence over, and potential leadership of, future international negotiations would be greatly increased if its own economy was decarbonised more rapidly. It should therefore set a target of a 30% reduction on 1990 levels by 2020. This would be a win in the long term economic and environmental interests of the UK and the EU. We recommend that the Government argues strongly for this at the European level.

55. The IPCC is to assess whether the scientific evidence points to a 1.5 °C rather than 2 °C rise in global average temperatures. The 2 °C target is ultimately a political agreement, and even this will be difficult enough to implement though important in setting a framework and providing something to aim for, and to set emissions reductions pledges against. A 1.5 °C target, which some observers already consider to be unachievable, is unlikely to provide any more leverage at negotiations. However, it needs to be acknowledged that for some countries, such as low lying states, 2 °C may well be "the end of the world" and as such it is politically impossible for them to subscribe to a 2 °C target.[72] It is important to note that the 2 °C target itself represents a judgement about the balance of threat and probability. It does not, according to scientific evidence, guarantee that dangerous and irreversible climate change will be avoided. At the same time exceeding the 2 °C level will not inevitably cause dangerous and irreversible climate change.[73]

56. WWF-UK argued that global emissions must have an early peak (by 2015) and decline steeply thereafter to keep the temperature rises to the agreed level and avoid the need for "extremely steep emission reduction rates and aggressive mitigation measures afterwards".[74] DECC believes that "it is not possible to make definitive statements on compatibility of emission reduction commitments and eventual global warming".[75] They agreed, however, that the current pledges were "not consistent" with an emissions trajectory that will keep warming below 2°C.[76]

57. In fact, there is no precisely defined time by which global emissions have to have peaked in order to keep temperatures to the agreed level, they just have to peak as early as possible. Prof. Jacobs summarised it as: "Earlier is better, but later is better than much later".[77] The longer it is until emissions peak, however, the faster they will have to reduce after that peak, and the more difficult and costly it will be to make that reduction.[78]

64   Sir David King, International climate change negotiations: key lessons and next steps, Chapter 3, p 14 Back

65   Q 89 Back

66   European Commission, Analysis of options beyond 20% GHG emission reductions: Member state results, February 2012, p 5  Back

67   Q 6 Back

68   Ev 74 Back

69   Ev 75 Back

70   Q 132 Back

71   Q 92 Back

72   Q 142 Back

73   Q 132 [Dr. Robert Falkner] Back

74   Ev 77 Back

75   Ev 60 Back

76   Ev 61 Back

77   Q 137 Back

78   Q 135 Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2012
Prepared 25 July 2012