Even if governments can agree on a global pact to cut carbon emissions in a crucial UN summit next year, it may already be too late to prevent the most devastating impacts of climate change, a new study has claimed.
Analysts suggest the mitigation strategies and targets that negotiators already have in mind, ahead of the 2015 climate talks in Paris, are insufficient to limit global temperature rises to below 2C from pre-industrial times.
This is the threshold suggested by scientists and agreed by world leaders. Above 2C, experts fear that irreversible tipping points will be set in motion.
However, Thomson Reuters Point Carbon’s new report claims that to achieve this, global emissions would have to decrease by at least 3% year-on-year.
Researchers map three possible global emissions scenarios, based upon potential outcomes of the Paris summit, and conclude that none will lead to sufficient emission reductions.
Even the EU’s proposed targets – the most ambitious targets yet to be put forward by any major polluter – are said to be inadequate. If realised, the targets would translate to a 1.9% reduction year-on-year.
“Climate negotiators may need to reframe their work,” said Point Carbon analyst Ashley Lawson.
“The 2C goal just doesn’t appear to be achievable, no matter how strong the progress made in Paris next year.”
In a landmark report published last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) set the world’s first ‘carbon budget’.
The budget warned that mankind must emit no more than 1 trillion tonnes of carbon by 2100 to have just a decent chance of keeping temperatures below the target. By 2011, around 530 gigatonnes had already been emitted.
According to the new analysis, the world will spend the carbon budget by 2048.
Point Carbon’s researchers are far from the first commentators to question whether the 2C target is realistic. Last year PricewaterhouseCoopers suggested the carbon budget would be exceeded within just 20 years.
Some have even suggested that the threshold is too low. One recent study found that warming below 2C will cause severe flooding, heatwaves, water shortages and similar impacts across Europe.
However, some forecasts are far more positive. A report submitted to the UN this week found that with international cooperation and significant investment in energy efficiency, low-carbon energy and fuel switching, the world’s biggest polluters could decarbonise before it is too late.
“We do not subscribe to the view held by some that the 2C limit is impossible to achieve and that it should be weakened or dropped altogether,” the report said.