As nations haggle, global carbon cut targets get impossibly deep

David Fogarty and Alister Doyle
Reuters Middle East

* Rapid emissions growth means cuts must be deep from 2020

* Talks lack ambition to deliver tough new targets -greens

Nov 28 (Reuters) - As the nations of the world struggle in

Doha to agree even modest targets to tackle global warming, the

cuts needed in rising greenhouse gas emissions grow ever deeper,

more costly and less likely to be achieved.

U.N. talks have delivered only small emissions curbs in 20

years, even as power stations, cars and factories pump out more

and more heat-trapping gases.

An overriding long-term goal set by all nations two years

ago to keep temperature rises to less than 2 degrees Celsius

(3.6 F) above levels prior to the Industrial Revolution is fast

slipping away.

"The possibility of keeping warming to below 2 degrees has

almost vanished," Pep Canadell, head of the Global Carbon

Project at Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Research

Organization, told Reuters.

Disagreements mean the U.N. climate talks in Doha, Qatar,

that run until Dec. 7 have scant chance of making meaningful

progress. The talks are aimed at reaching a new deal to start by

2020 to slow climate change in the form of more floods,

droughts, rising sea levels and severe storms like Hurricane

Sandy that lashed the U.S. Northeast last month.

Global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main

greenhouse gas, have risen 50 percent since 1990 and the pace of

growth has picked up since 2000, Canadell said. In the past

decade, emissions have grown about 3 percent a year despite an

economic slowdown, up from 1 percent during the 1990s.

Based on current emissions growth and rapid industrial

expansion in developing nations, emissions are expected to keep

growing by about 3 percent a year over the next decade.

For the talks to have any chance of success in the long run,

emissions must quickly stop rising and then begin to fall.

Temperatures have already risen by 0.8 C (1.4 F) since

pre-industrial times.

"The alarm bells are going off all over the place. There's a

disconnect between the outside world and the lack of urgency in

these halls," Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists

said at the Doha talks.

Nearly 1,200 coal-fired power plants, among the biggest

emitters, are proposed around the globe, with three-quarters of

them planned for China and India, a study by the

Washington-based World Resources Institute think-tank said last


Emissions from China, the world's top carbon polluter, are

growing 8 to 9 percent a year and are now about 50 percent

higher than those of the United States. And China's carbon

emissions are not expected to peak until 2030.


In some projections, global emissions will need to go into

reverse by mid-century, with the world sucking more carbon out

of the air than it puts in, if warming is to be kept to below 2


And air pollution, mostly particles from fossil fuel use,

may be masking the warming by dimming sunshine.

"Those aerosols today hide about one-third of the effect of

greenhouse gases," Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, vice-chairman of

the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC),

told Reuters.

Without that pollution, a breach of the 2 degree threshold

might already be inevitable, he said.

The latest IPCC report, in 2007, said keeping greenhouse gas

concentrations low would cost less than 3 percent of world gross

domestic product by 2030. So far, the panel has not assessed the

costs of delays, said Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the panel.

The report also said that world emissions of greenhouse

gases would need to peak by 2015 to give a good chance of

keeping the average temperature rise to below 2 C.

But deep disagreement on future emissions cuts between rich

and poor nations has delayed the start of a new global pact

until 2020, undermining the chances of a robust extension in

Doha of the existing plan, the Kyoto Protocol, which obliges

almost 40 rich nations to cut emissions until the end of 2012.

The deadline for a deal on new cuts due to start in 2020 has

been put back to 2015, giving breathing space for the troubled

talks as ever more carbon enters the air.

Yet current emissions cut pledges are putting the planet on

course for a warming of 3 to 5 C, a U.N. report said last week,

adding that 2 C was still possible with tough action.

"The later we go in getting complete action and the higher

emissions are in 2020, the greater is the risk that these

targets are not possible or are extremely expensive," said Bill

Hare, head of the non-profit advisory organisation Climate


Key will be a switch to nuclear or biomass power and carbon

capture and storage. If these don't step up, there will be no

financially feasible solutions to meet the target, he said.

In Doha, both the United States and the European Union - the

main emitters among developed nations - say they will not deepen

their pledges for cuts by 2020. "It's a desperate situation,"

said Martin Kaiser of Greenpeace.

To be effective, the next climate pact from 2020 would need

global agreement for rapid and deep cuts. Under a scenario drawn

up by the IPCC, rich nations needed to achieve cuts of 25 to 40

percent by 2020 from 1990 levels.

But existing pledges are for less than 20 percent.


Canadell, citing work by the Global Carbon Project and other

researchers, said that to have a reasonable chance of keeping

warming to 2 C, global emissions would have to drop about 3

percent a year from 2020.

Since developed nations are meant to take the lead, that

would mean the rich would have to cut by between 4 and 5 percent

a year, he said. That could cripple economies by prematurely

shutting down coal-fired power plants and polluting factories.

Global accountancy firm PwC estimated that the improvement

in global carbon intensity - the amount of carbon emitted per

unit of economic output - needed to meet a 2 C target had risen

to 5.1 percent a year, from now to 2050.

"We have passed a critical threshold - not once since World

War Two has the world achieved that rate of decarbonisation, but

the task now confronting us is to achieve it for 39 consecutive

years," PwC said.

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