A climate change agreement is not out of reachby Stanley Johnson / December 12, 2012 / Leave a comment
A British protestor ahead of the Doha climate change conference (photo: Adela Nistora/Demotix/Corbis)
The Kyoto Protocol on climate change, the most significant attempt so far to shield us from the effects of man-made global warming, expires on 31st December. We need a successor. Since the 1997 Kyoto agreement, scientists and engineers have developed new ways to use energy more efficiently. But these changes won’t be enough without a more ambitious global deal than we’ve had before.
It’s hard to overestimate the importance of the two-week Doha climate change conference, which ended on 7th December. Seventeen thousand people from 197 countries have poured into the tiny Gulf state of Qatar (which happens to have the highest per capita emissions in the world). The aim is to lay the groundwork for a successor to the Kyoto agreement—Kyoto Mark 2—in Paris in three years’ time.
The Kyoto Protocol set greenhouse gas reduction targets for 37 industrialised countries. It led to some falls—partly because it coincided with the drop in the use of coal in Europe—but not nearly enough. Three years ago in Copenhagen, 40,000 ministers, officials and activists tried again. Their starting point was the scientific recommendation that the rise in average global temperatures should be kept within two degrees Celsius of pre-industrial levels. They predicted that this had a good chance of limiting some damaging consequences of global warming such as a rise in sea levels or swings in weather patterns.
For this to be done, the scientists projected, global carbon emissions should not exceed 44 gigatons in the year 2020. Yet current greenhouse gas emissions are over 50 gigatons (which means there is already an “emissions gap” of over six gigatons) and will rise to 58 gigatons by 2020.
Can we make cuts on this scale or is this all pie-in-the-sky? One of the most important things to come out of the Doha meeting was the Emissions Gap Report 2012, coordinated by the UN Environment Programme and the European Climate Foundation. The report estimated that reductions in the range of 17 gigatons are possible, from efficiency in the design and construction of buildings, power generation and transport. That potential 17 gigaton fall would bring annual global emissions below the crucial 44 gigaton level.
There is another reason for optimism. Large reserves of…