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EWEA's Opinion

Emission reduction targets fall far short of Copenhagen Accord goal

18.02.2010

After the failure of the Copenhagen Accord to deal effectively with climate change, it comes as a pleasant surprise to hear visionary Microsoft founder Bill Gates say that society must find a way of eliminating its carbon emissions if it is to avoid a monumental catastrophe.

Calling global warming the world’s most pressing problem, Gates said last week in a speech in California that by 2050 fossil fuels should no longer be employed to create energy, but that we should move instead to a power system based strongly on renewables like wind and solar energy.

“We have to drive full speed and get a miracle in a pretty tight timeline,” CNN quoted Gates as saying, adding he also suggested researchers spend the next two decades perfecting clean-energy technologies and then the following 20 years implementing them.

Gates’ somewhat upbeat comments counter two recent assessments of carbon-reduction targets pledged following the Copenhagen Accord which highlight a huge and alarming disconnect between government promises to curb global warming and future projected temperature increases in our life-sustaining atmosphere.

In one of the assessments, researchers from the Sustainability Institute, the MIT Sloan School of Management and Ventana Systems found that government emission-reduction targets made after the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen would result in a temperature increase of about 3.9°C by the end of this century.

While the so-called Copenhagen Accord reached in December had as its goal a temperature increase of no more than 2°C, the US-based researchers said global emissions need to peak within the next decade and fall to at least 50% of 1990 levels by 2050.

The researchers also said much more effort is needed and an awareness of “the gap between current proposals and the emissions reductions that the science tells us are needed” if the world is to avoid calamitous consequences associated with unchecked global warming.

“Without deeper near term emissions reductions, and an explicit commitment to longer term global emissions reductions, the Copenhagen Accord leaves the task of creating a global framework to prevent dangerous interference with the Earth’s climate unfinished,” said Dr. Elizabeth Sawin of the Sustainability Institute.

“A new degree of collective ambition and cooperation will be required before the world sees a climate agreement consistent with limiting warming to even 2 [degrees] C, let alone the 1.5 [degree] C goal named by a growing number of governments and civil society groups.”

Also sobering is another recent assessment, conducted by researchers from Ecofys and Climate Analytics and supported by the European Climate Foundation, which indicated that current emission-reduction pledges made after Copenhagen would lead to a global temperature increase of more than 3°C above pre-industrial levels by 2100.

Despite the alarming nature of the two assessments, it is a positive sign if someone as influential as Bill Gates is spreading the word that global warming requires a green energy revolution including emissions-free wind power and other renewables.

What the world needs now, however, is for the majority of national leaders to come to the same conclusion – and begin acting on it.

A new and strengthened post-Kyoto agreement to limit greenhouse gases reached later this year would send an unequivocal signal that the international community is finally going to cooperate on fighting climate change before it gets out of control.

The alternative isn’t pretty.

By Chris Rose, EWEA




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