Big three emitters pledge too little

The emission reduction pledges made by the US, the EU and China leave very little room for the rest of the world to emit, finds American and Norwegian researchers in a new study.

In advance of the UN climate talks in Paris at the end of this year, countries around the world have submitted their emission reduction targets needed to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Those pledges are supposed to be “fair and ambitious”, according to the organisers of the climate talks.

But a new study conducted by researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Norway shows that the pledges by the world’s largest emitters are simply too low and leave almost no room for other countries to emit.

While the pledges themselves are substantial, the researchers found that the rest of the world’s nations would be forced to adopt per capita emissions 7 to 14 times lower than the EU, US, or China by 2030 if global temperature rise is to be kept below the 2 C mark.

“The challenge of this problem is, we have about 7 billion people on the planet, and about 1 billion of us live pretty well,” says Susan Solomon, a professor of atmospheric chemistry and climate science at MIT. “The other 6 billion are struggling to develop, and if they develop using carbon as we did, the planet is going to get quite hot. And hot is, of course, just the beginning of the story in terms of what climate change actually means.”

The researchers argue that the pledges made by the top three emitters are not fair under an equity approach, which divides the global quota of emissions among all nations based on population. In fact, even if the three largest emitters fulfil their pledges, they would “lock the world into a higher long-term temperature increase” of around 3 C.

Solomon calls three degrees “a really frightening change.” She and her colleagues wants to see the international climate talks include discussions on research and development to spur technological innovation to decarbonise the energy system.

 

Photo credit: Ian Britton, flickr/Creative Commons

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