Paris Agreement is insufficient to brake global warming, report warns
October 26, 2016
By Karina Toledo | Agência FAPESP – An international group of experts has warned that unless more drastic measures are taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions than those pledged in the Paris Agreement, the average global temperature could rise 2°C above pre-industrial levels as early as 2050. An increase of 2°C is generally considered to be the worldwide threshold for climate change, beyond which the effects will be devastating.
The warning is highlighted in The Truth About Climate Change, published on September 29. The report was co-authored by six top climate scientists, led by Sir Robert Watson, former Chair of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Among the authors was José Goldemberg, Professor Emeritus of the University of São Paulo (USP) in Brazil and President of FAPESP.
“The report rings alarm bells by warning that we can’t be comfortable with the commitments made under the Paris Agreement,” Goldemberg said. “It shows that even if all targets for 2030 are met, that won’t be sufficient to stop temperatures rising above 2°C. And some of the pledges are conditional on external factors such as financial assistance.”
In an online interview, Watson urged citizens to review their habits and make personal contributions in addition to pressing governments and corporations to take steps to cut emissions. “We need to look at how we’re using energy in our day-to-day lives, make our homes more energy-efficient, and prefer alternative forms of urban transit to single-passenger cars,” he said.
Climate change is still poorly understood by the general public owing to miscommunication and deliberate misinformation, the experts say in the report. The resulting misunderstandings have “led many to perceive climate change as abstract, distant and even controversial”, they add.
There is no doubt whatsoever that climate change is happening now, and much faster than anticipated, the experts continue. Despite overwhelming evidence, action to minimize climate change has been delayed and greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase steadily, making climate action more difficult and costly.
“Public support will be crucial to accelerate climate action in all countries. Thus, the following questions aim at explaining some misunderstandings about climate change and the Paris Agreement”, the experts say in their introduction to the report.
They acknowledge that the Paris Agreement was successful and represents a “critical step towards global climate action”. World leaders agreed to prevent global warming from reaching 2°C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5°C. According to the IPCC, the risk of extreme weather events and rising sea levels will increase significantly if the average global temperature oversteps this threshold.
In 2015, the average global temperature was already over 1°C above pre-industrial times.
GHG emissions currently total 54 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2eq) per year. To avoid exceeding the threshold proposed for 2100, a 22% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions will be necessary by 2030.
Instead of falling, however, the report stresses that emissions will remain at current levels under the best-case scenario, i.e., if all of the pledges made by the 189 countries that committed to targets at Paris in December 2015 are fully implemented.
Moreover, if countries implement only unconditional pledges – those not dependent on financial aid, technology transfer or capacity-building – then GHG emissions will rise 6% by 2030.
Without the Paris Agreement, the outlook would be worse: GHG emissions would rise 30% by 2030.
On September 21, President Michel Temer handed the instrument of Brazil’s ratification of the Paris Agreement to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. Brazil has unconditionally pledged a 37% reduction in GHG emissions by 2025 and a 43% cut by 2030 compared with 2005 levels.
For Goldemberg, these targets are “adequate”. However, he stressed, they are merely an “expression of intent” because the means for implementing the pledges have not been specified.
“For example, Brazil’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution, or INDC, contains a commitment to the restoration or reforestation of 12 million hectares in the Amazon, but we don’t know who will plant the trees and with what money. There’s considerable uncertainty about how this will be done,” he said.
For Goldemberg, the main impact of climate change for Brazil if the 2°C threshold is surpassed will be savannization of the Amazon rainforest. “This would change the climate throughout Brazil and severely damage agriculture. The rain that falls in the South, Southeast and Center-West comes from the Amazon,” he said.
Goldemberg also recalled the damage wrought by floods in coastal cities such as Santos. A study supported by FAPESP estimated that the sea level in Santos may rise 18 cm-30 cm by 2050 and between 36 cm and 1 m by 2100. Flooding could cause damage amounting to almost R$2 billion by then unless adaptive measures are taken (read more at: agencia.fapesp.br/22129).
The Truth About Climate Change can be downloaded from the website of the Universal Ecological Fund (FEU-US): feu-us.org/the-report.
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