Durban May Be Last Chance to Stabilise Climate Under Two Degrees — Africa, Russia To Cook by 2020; Most of Canada and China by 2030

By Stephen Leahy

The International Energy Agency estimates that 80 percent of projected emissions from the power sector in 2020 are already locked in.

CHANGWON, South Korea , Oct 23, 2011 (IPS)

The window to limit global warming to less than two degrees C is closing so fast it can be measured in months, a new scientific analysis revealed Sunday.

Without putting the brakes on carbon emissions very soon, large parts of Africa, most of Russia and northern China will be two degrees C warmer in less than 10 years. Canada and Alaska will soon follow, the regional study shows.

“If one is sincerely committed to limit global temperature increase to below two degrees C… (governments) committing to a global peak emission level and peak year makes sense from a science perspective,” said Joeri Rogelj of the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science in Zurich, who headed the analysis published Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change. [See NCC editorial “Crossing the threshold”]

Governments will be meeting in Durban, South Africa starting Nov. 28 to launch the next round of climate treaty negotiations, which so far have failed to ensure their goal of less than a two-degree C increase will be achieved.

IPS asked Rogelj if government delegates in Durban ought to set a specific year by which global emissions will peak and then decline to ensure the two-degree C target will be met.

“Committing to such targets would ensure that we embark globally on a technologically and economically feasible low-emission path,” Rogelj said.

Rogelj and a group of leading experts show in this state-of-the-art analysis that to have a 66-percent or better probability of staying below two degrees C this century, global carbon emissions must peak before 2020. Global emissions ought to be around 44 billion tonnes of CO2 in 2020. That is four billion tonnes (also called gigatonnes, Gt) less than the estimated emissions for 2010.

After 2020 emissions must decline rapidly, about two to three percent less each year until they fall to 20 Gt by 2050, according to the computer models. This is an emissions “pathway that will be very challenging to achieve”, Rogelj and colleagues conclude in their study.

Very challenging” is scientist-talk for something that will be extremely difficult to do. The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimated that 80 percent of projected emissions from the power sector in 2020 are already locked in, as they will come from power plants that are currently in place or under construction today.

“This significant increase in CO2 emissions and the locking in of future emissions due to infrastructure investments represent a serious setback to our hopes of limiting the global rise in temperature to no more than two degrees C,” said Dr. Fatih Birol, chief economist of the IEA, last May. Continue reading