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‘Greenhouse gas emissions need unprecedented cuts’

The world is hurtling towards a climate crisis and will require unprecedented reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to keep average global temperature rise below 2 degree Celsius, compared to the pre-industrial era. Global emissions have already reached such a level that this tipping point could be avoided only with the deployment of silver bullet technologies that are yet uncertain. This is the summary of the UN climate change scientific panel’s report which was formally agreed and adopted on Saturday evening by more than 190 countries at the end of the negotiations in Copenhagen.

Business Standard reviewed a copy of the report just after it had been finalised and a day ahead of its global release.

The report, called ‘Summary for Policy Makers of the Fifth Assessment Report Synthesis’, of the UN Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is to be released on Sunday. It is prepared after negotiations between climate scientists and representatives of more than 190 countries

“Without additional mitigation efforts beyond those in place today, and even with adaptation, warming by the end of the 21st century will lead to high to very high risk of severe, widespread and irreversible impacts globally,” warns the report.

Limiting the temperature rise to 2 degree Celsius has been accepted by the global community as the target it should try to achieve by reducing emissions under the new pact to be signed in 2015. The IPCC summary report will now act as the scientific basis on which the countries negotiate the new pact under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The panel of scientists concluded that all projections of future global emissions that try to maintain global temperature rise below the dangerous 2 degree Celsius level require that the world undertake a 40-70% emission reduction by 2050 as compared to 2010 levels.

While most countries try to negotiate a deal where the world is required to cut its emissions at a steep rate in later decades rather than recent ones, the report warns that this strategy could set the planet on a dangerous path. “Delaying additional mitigation to 2030 will substantially increase the challenges associated with limiting warming over the 21st century to below 2 degree Celsius relative to pre-industrial era’. Most countries are negotiating currently to not up their emission reduction targets before 2020, and the rate of emission increase has only jumped up in the past decade.

The report does not apportion responsibilities across countries for the climate change action but states that the principles of equity, justice and fairness of the global deal should be factored for a new global compact. It notes, that the countries most vulnerable to climate change have contributed little to it.

Answering sceptics – mostly voices out of developed economies – the report makes it more unequivocal than ever that climate change is real, due to greenhouse gas emissions released by human activity and only getting worse. It lists out the possible dangerous impacts of not making a drastic cut to reduce emissions along the paths it prescribes.

At current rate of emissions, the scientific panel reads, “Surface temperature is projected to rise over the 21st century under all assessed emission scenarios. It is very likely that heat waves will occur more often and last longer, and that extreme precipitation events will become more intense and frequent in many regions. The ocean will continue to warm and acidify, and global mean sea level will rise.”

The impacts vary across continents and regions, but it notes that rising global emissions will lead to reduced crop yields and production in more cases than the ones where it will help. The impacts on Asia are graphically illustrated on the chart above.

The report says under all kind of future scenarios of how the world cuts emissions, global surface temperatures are likely to increase by more than 1.5 degree Celsius – a threshold that small island countries are especially pushing to be adopted for the new 2015 pact. Under the worst case scenario where the world does little to cut emissions global surface temperatures to rise by 4.8 degree Celsius.

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