News / Science & Technology

UN Report: Many Nations Not on Track for Promised Emissions Cuts

Mexico's new climate law promises to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2020, which should make a difference in Mexico City, among the most polluted cities in the world.
Mexico's new climate law promises to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2020, which should make a difference in Mexico City, among the most polluted cities in the world.
Rosanne Skirble
The amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached a record high in 2012, according to figures from the World Meteorological Organization. Emissions from power plants, cars and buildings are the principal drivers of climate change.

Climate talks in Warsaw next week address the task of creating a treaty aimed at reducing those emissions. The agreement, expected by 2015, will replace the Kyoto Protocol that expired last year.

The U.N. Environment Program’s annual Emissions Gap Report, released this week, reviews how each nation is meeting its pledge to reduce the release of greenhouse gases. UNEP Climate Change Coordinator Merlyn van Voore warns the opportunity to control those emissions is slipping away. “The emissions gap is still growing. UNEP believes that it is still possible to close the gap, but it will be tough.”

The scenarios described in the report find that delay will be costly, but the situation will get even costlier if nations continue with business as usual.

Not all large emitters on track to meet pledges

According to the report, five of the largest emitters - China, India, Australia, Russia and the European Union nations - are on track to meet commitments made in international forums. Other major emitters, including the United States, Canada, Japan, Mexico and South Korea, fall short.

Co-author Taryn Fransen, a senior scientist with the World Resources Institute, said that while the news is not great, she is encouraged that some of those nations have recently put policy changes in place. She points to a new climate law in Mexico, an emissions trading scheme in South Korea and the U.S. Climate Action Plan announced by President Barack Obama in June. “[That] identifies a number of measures that if they are fully and ambitiously implemented, it could do a lot to put the U.S. back on track, measures such as regulating emissions from power plants, improving appliance and building energy efficiency increasing renewable energy and so on,” said Fransen.

Warming above 2 degrees Celsius is danger to planet

Fransen said even if the United States and every other nation fulfilled their pledges, however, emissions by the end of the decade still would be 18 to 27 percent above where they need to be to keep global temperature rise less than two degrees Celsius higher than pre-industrial levels.

Climate scientists say breaking the two degree Celsius threshold would put the planet in danger with increased ice sheet melt, sea level rise, forest fires, and extreme weather.

Fransen said that while it is imperative for countries to deliver on pledges and go beyond them, “ultimately delivering on the existing pledges will not be enough and countries must formulate more ambitious solutions.”

Agricultural practices, higher pledges, partnerships curb warming trend

The report recommends nations strengthen emissions pledges, initiate or scale up agricultural practices that mitigate climate change, and engage in private and public programs that promote energy efficiency, fossil fuel subsidy reform and renewable energy.

UNEP’s van Voore said the Emissions Gap Report underscores the urgency to move away from fossil fuels. She says for every dollar invested in renewable energy, five are spent in subsidies for fossil fuels. “And if we can start shifting the economics that underlie that, then perhaps we do see a more positive picture emerging.”
    
The Emissions Gap Report quantifies country pledges. Now, Van Voore says, nations must step up and take action that makes a difference for the planet.

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