Political failure on climate change has “cost the world dearly” – academics
[image: Image: supplied.]Image: supplied. Political failure on climate change has “cost the world dearly” – academics
By Sheree Bega [image: Time of article published] 20h ago
A wasted decade. That’s how an international team has described the past 10 years of political failure on climate change, which has “cost us all dear” and “shrunk the time left for action by two thirds”.
“In 2010, the world thought it had 30 years to halve global emissions of greenhouse gases,” wrote Prof Niklas Höhne from Wageningen University in the Netherlands and 14 co-authors, including Prof Harald Winkler, of the Energy Research Centre at the University of Cape Town (UCT), in a commentary in Nature last week.
“Today, we know that this must happen in 10 years to minimise the effects of climate change. Incremental shifts that might once have been sufficient are no longer enough.”
The further bleak news, they warned, is that, even taken together, the proposed climate action by all countries is a long way from meeting this requirement.
“Rather than halving emissions by 2030, countries’ climate proposals will lead to a slight increase. Worse still, individual countries are not on track to achieve commitments that were insufficient from the outset and are now woefully inadequate.”
The better news is that more countries, regions, cities and businesses are implementing the “deep, rapid transformations that are urgently required.
“At scale, these could achieve the collective climate goals that nations agreed in Paris more than four years ago. There are lessons to be learnt from places such as Costa Rica, Shenzhen in China and Copenhagen that have made strides through the use of renewable energy and electrified transport.
“The UK, together with 75 other parties, and California have at least set ambitious goals to become carbon neutral, which might send signals to industry even before supporting policies are implemented. Meanwhile, 26 banks have stopped directly financing new coal-fired power plants.”
Much is happening on the ground. “The question is how to ramp up these activities fast enough to keep warming to less than 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels.”
Their conclusions are from a synthesis of all 10 editions of the Emissions Gap Report produced by the UN Environment Programme, every year for the past decade, examining the difference between what countries have pledged to do individually to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, and what they need to do collectively to meet agreed temperature goals.
The analysis shows that the gap has widened by as much as four times since 2010.
There are three reasons for this, the authors explained. “First, global annual greenhouse-gas emissions increased by 14% between 2008 and 20186. This means that emissions now have to decline faster than was previously estimated, because it is cumulative emissions that determine the long-term temperature increase.
“Second, the international community now agrees that it must ensure a lower global temperature rise than it decided 10 years ago, because climate risks are better understood.
And third, countries’ new climate pledges have been insufficient.”
The authors wrote how the 10th anniversary of the report coincides with the 2020 milestone to which countries agreed in Paris. They undertook to communicate or update climate pledges, or ‘nationally determined contributions’, to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change conference this November in Glasgow.
“Clearly, the promises must be overhauled – and then, crucially, kept – if the yawning gap between ‘talk and walk’ is going to close by 2030.” Höhne and co-authors found that the required emissions cuts from 2020 to 2030 are now more than 7% per year on average for the 1.5°C temperature limit set in Paris and 3% for 2°C.
Had serious climate action begun in 2010, the cuts required to meet the emissions levels for 2°C would have been 2% per year, on average.
The time window for halving global emissions, too, has narrowed: today it is 10 years for 1.5°C and 25 years for 2°C; it would have been 30 years in 2010.
Collectively, the authors noted, current policies will not limit global warming to well below 2 °C, let alone 1.5 °C, as agreed in Paris.
Transformational change is needed, accelerating mitigation and shifting development pathways, said Winkler in a UCT statement. “Developing countries need to reduce both emission and inequality.”
The authors wrote how emerging economies that depend on coal, such as China and India, have begun to address consumption by adjusting the fuel price, capping its consumption, reducing plans for new coal-fired power plants and supporting renewables. “Much more must be done, and quickly, while addressing poverty, energy access and urbanization.”
The same is true for SA, said Winkler. “We need to adopt a vision for a just transition that includes net-zero emissions by 2050 or earlier, and put in place the laws, institutions and practical actions to achieve that goal.
“To make the transition just, communities and workers dependent on coal will have to be integrally involved in the change, ensuring they have sustainable livelihoods.”
More and more countries are establishing Just Transition commissions, Winkler said, calling for the Presidential Climate Change Co-ordinating Commission – agreed at the 2018
Job Summit as the statutory body to oversee SA’s just transition – “to be carefully designed and established as a matter of urgency”.
Höhne and his co-authors noted how although many reports, scientists and policymakers “continue to discuss rises of 2 °C, it must be emphasised that, in 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that warming of more than 1.5 °C would be disastrous.”
Of the G20 countries, seven -Australia, Brazil, Canada, Japan, South Korea, South Africa and the US – need to implement existing policy or roll out new measures.
“The US has begun the process of withdrawing from the Paris agreement, and will leave in November. Russia and Turkey have set themselves unambitious targets that they can meet without new policies.
Since 2015, estimated global emissions in 2030 have decreased by only 3%. For the leading seven emitters – China, the US, European Union, India, Russia, Indonesia and Brazil, 2030 estimates “have slightly decreased, flatlined or increased”.
The costs of renewable energy are falling faster than expected. “Renewables are currently the cheapest source of new power generation in most of the world. Solar and wind power will be financially more competitive than will existing coal plants by next year.
“These cost declines, and those of battery storage, are opening up possibilities for large-scale, low-carbon electrification. The rise of renewable energy can – must – facilitate a move away from coal, the authors write.
“The gap is so huge that governments, the private sector and communities need to switch into crisis mode, make their climate pledges more ambitious and focus on early and aggressive action. Otherwise, the Paris agreement’s long-term goals are out of reach. We do not have another 10 years.”
The Saturday Star