How feasible is changing track? Media Release

Dec 07, 2009 - 9:30am

The world risks tripling current rates of warming or having to go beyond known rates of technology improvement if leaders agree to inadequate benchmarks and decisions at Copenhagen, leading international scientific research commissioned by The Climate Institute released today shows.

The Climate Institute has also rated current Australian efforts as 3 out of a possible 5 stars in its Copenhagen Checklist, which outlines five key tests for a successful outcome at the UN Climate Summit starting on Monday.

The world needs to peak emissions before 2020 to avoid dangerous climate change, but current pledges on the table would put this out of reach.
“Current pledges from industrialised and developing countries see peaking, at best, in the late 2020s, that would trigger 3°C and more of global warming with severe consequences such as destruction of the world’s coral reefs,” said John Connor, CEO of The Climate Institute.

“This analysis shows that locking in inadequate 2020 targets and trying to correct a failure of ambition after 2020 would require emission reductions rates two to three times that currently proposed for world’s most ambitious targets.”

“Emission reductions would need to be extreme to have any hope of avoiding dangerous climate change and the rate of change would likely cause severe economic disruption." 

“Inadequate climate action in the short-term also risks tripling current rates of global warming which are already affecting Australia through more intense droughts, bushfires and heat waves.”

The report -  How feasible is changing track?  - by global scientific experts from Climate Analytics in Germany and the USA tests whether emissions can be reduced fast enough post-2020 to avoid dangerous levels of climate change. The key finding are: 

  • Locking in current targets to 2020 would effectively rule out meeting the goals identified by the world’s most vulnerable people as the threshold above which their survival is threatened – a 1.5°C increase in global temperature above preindustrial levels.
  • Locking in current targets to 2020 and then playing catch up to meet a 2°C target requires a global emission reduction rate to -6 percent of 1990 emissions per year post 2020. This is triple the rate of reduction required if the world set more adequate 2020 targets and equates to reducing emissions by the same amount as Japan’s and India’s combined 1990 emissions every year.
  • The rapid rise in emissions until 2020 and the necessary rapid emission reduction after the 2020s result in a rate of temperature increase by the 2040s that is double to triple what is currently observed, which is about 0.15°C per decade.
  • The authors conclude: “Since the currently observed rate of temperature increase already poses problems of adaptation for human society and ecosystems, a doubling or tripling of this rate will likely pose a serious threat to these systems”.

“Most countries have been improving their ambition and commitments in recent weeks and months but we are still well short of sufficient commitments. Prime Minister Rudd and other leaders will need to lift the ambition in coming weeks.”

Read the report

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