Leaked UN Report: Climate Pledges Too Weak to Stop Catastrophic Warming


COPENHAGEN, Denmark, December 17, 2009 (ENS) – A confidential analysis by the United Nations climate secretariat leaked to a civil society group shows that emissions reductions pledges by developed countries and some emerging economies now on the table would allow global warming to hit at least three degrees Celsius, 3oC, above pre-industrial levels.

A maximum warming of 2oC is needed to avert catastrophic climate change, according to the widely accepted Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2007 scientific assessment report.

The UN analysis document, dated December 15, 2009 and headed “Confidential Very Initial Draft,” provides an assessment of the pledges made by Annex I Parties to the Kyoto Protocol – those 36 countries with legally binding greenhouse gas emissions targets – and voluntary actions and policy goals announced by a number of non-Annex I Parties – as the United Nations climate summit in Copenhagen is in progress.

Leaked to the TckTckTck climate campaign group, which posted it online, the Internal Note of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Secretariat states, “The paper shows a gap of 10.5 Gt [gigatonnes] to the required level of 44 Gt needed to achieve stabilization of the concentration of emissions in the atmosphere that is consistent with the goal of staying below 2oC.”

“This gap could be partly covered by the emission savings that could result from minimum pledges and maximum pledges. Unless the remaining gap of around 1.9 to 4.2 Gt is closed and Parties commit themselves to strong action prior and after 2020, global emissions will remain on an unsustainable pathway that could lead to concentrations equal or above 550 ppm with the related temperature raise around 3oC,” the analysis states.

The analysis is based on the 2009 World Energy Outlook report from the International Energy Agency.

It says that, “According to the IPCC 450 parts per million (ppm) scenarios, Annex I Parties are expected to reduce their emissions by 25-40% in 2020 compared to 1990 emission levels and developing countries are expected to reduce their emissions significantly below the baseline (this is clarified in the literature to mean 15-30% reduction below the baseline.)”

By this measure, the United States, which has offered to reduce its emission levels 17 percent below 2005 levels, is not even comparing its reductions to the standard baseline of 1990, when emissions were lower than in 2005. The U.S. offer amounts to an estimated four percent below 1990 levels.

“In one sense this is no secret. We’ve been saying it for months,” said Bill McKibben, founder of the advocacy group 350.org, which has organized international actions to motivate world leaders towards the goal of atmospheric concentrations of 350 parts per million for the chief greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

“But it is powerful to have the UN confirming its own insincerity,” said McKibben, whose name is scrawled across the top of the leaked document, for reasons he cannot explain.

“The actual numbers for the current proposals are almost certainly even higher than the leaked document concludes,” McKibben said. He points to an analysis by Climate Interactive, using a software model developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, saying it estimates “we’ll see temperature increases of 3.9 degrees and a CO2 concentration of 770 ppm by the year 2100.”

Keith Allott, head of climate change at WWF-UK, said, “The stark message for world leaders at Copenhagen is that the proposals on the table – especially from industrialized countries – fall far short of what the world needs.”

“This assessment from just two days ago is based on a very optimistic view of emissions reductions pledges that assumes away the huge loopholes where emissions are hidden and assumes all voluntary emissions reductions commitments will be met,” Allott said.

“Urgent action is needed to put global emissions on a pathway that would keep warming well below the accepted two degree threshold for unacceptable risks of catastrophic climate change,” he said.

“It is a case of simple maths,” Allott said. “We need much more ambitious targets for developed countries, new and additional financial support to help low-carbon growth in developing countries, and action to plug the many loopholes that make existing emission pledges even weaker than they seem at first glance.”

To dramatize their demand for steeper greenhouse gas emissions cuts, hundreds of civil society climate leaders gathered today in the Øksnehallen hall in Copenhagen, cupping candles to their chests in a vigil for survival. They represent the growing climate movement that organized thousands of vigils this past weekend in almost every country, and that has gathered nearly 12 million signatures on a petition calling for effective climate action.

Each of the 1,200 candles held by the participants at the vigil reads, “This candle represents 10,000 people who want a real deal,” referring to a fair, ambitious, and binding climate treaty called for in the TckTckTck petition.

But the vigil is not being held inside the Bella Centre, where the heads of state from over 110 countries have gathered, as almost all representatives of civil society were removed from the conference center yesterday and today.

Many of the people attending the vigil are fasting today to call attention to the hunger that climate change will impose upon millions. They are not eating in support of the leaders of the Climate Justice Fast who have been fasting for 42 days, eating nothing and drinking only water.

McKibben, who spoke to the crowd, connected climate change to the fasters by saying, “The inexorable rise in temperature brings droughts and floods. … The work we are doing is on the behalf of those that are already hungry, and it is on behalf of all those who will be hungry from climate change into the future.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.

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