Two reports show how far we are from meeting green targets

Bad news this morning on the world’s attempts to curb carbon emissions. Two new reports, one from the UN Environmental Programme ahead of Cancun, and one from WWF and EcoFys on European government policy, paint similarly gloomy pictures.

The UN report focuses on the “carbon gap”, between the level of CO2 likely to be produced globally if climate policies stay the same and the level needed to meet the UN’s target of limiting global warming to 2°C.

According to the report:

Under business-as-usual projections, global emissions could reach 56 GtCO2e (range: 54-60 GtCO2e) in 2020, leaving a gap of 12 GtCO2e.

If the lowest-ambition pledges were implemented in a “lenient” fashion, emissions could be lowered slightly to 53 GtCO2e (range: 52-57 GtCO2e), leaving a significant gap of 9 GtCO2e.

In other words, if governments carry out their easiest promises only to the letter and not the spirit of the law, there will be a gap of 9 gigatonnes of greenhouse gases between where we are and where we need to be.

It suggests two ways to cut the gap: by countries signing up to higher pledges at Cancun, and by tightening up the accounting rules. As an example of tightening the accounting rules, they call for countries not to receive credit under land-use rules for removing carbon with forests that existed anyway, without any government intervention.

The report adds:

In addition, the risk of the gap increasing in size can be avoided if the negotiations set rules regarding international offsets to prevent them from being counted towards both industrialized and developing country pledges.

Few people I have spoken to have any hope of anything major coming from Cancun. But a tightening of the current rules as is advocated here? That might just be possible.

Back in Europe, WWF has a similarly gloomy summary of governments’ climate policies. According to its EU climate policy tracker, every country receives between a D and an F for their current policies. The report suggests that energy efficiency in industries and in buildings is particularly holding countries back.

But there are bright spots: the UK and Ireland both rate highly for their overarching climate strategy, while renewables are finding widespread government support.

These two reports highlight an interesting conundrum for green lobbyists however. While they are both well researched and have sensible policy suggestions (as long as you believe in reducing carbon emissions at all, which some don’t), neither exactly accentuates the positive. Are they in danger of making the public fatalistic about combating climate change?

The accusation is particularly relevant to WWF’s report. It seems odd, for example, that while the UK and Ireland are commended for their “exemplary” general climate policy, Ireland secures an overall D and the UK an E. On this arbitrary scale, would it not have been more productive to highlight policy successes with higer grades?

Campaigners like WWF might think that stressing the negative stimulates action. That’s certainly the approach this morning, with Keith Allott, its head of climate change, saying:

Governments meeting for the UN climate negotiations in Cancun in just a few days time need to fully recognise the scale of this gap and raise their game.

But will continual criticism have the effect they intend?

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