Paris (AFP) July 8, 2008
The head of the UN's Nobel-winning panel of climate change scientists said Tuesday that a pledge made by G8 leaders to at least halve global warming emissions by 2050 had a major flaw.
The world's wealthiest nations failed to specify a target for cutting greenhouse-gas emissions in the coming decade, a vital stepping stone for meeting the mid-century goal, said Rajendra Pachauri.
"There's a serious omission in terms of not addressing the Bali action plan, which has called for deep cuts in emissions by 2020," Pachauri told AFP in an interview from New Delhi.
UN negotiations last December in Bali, Indonesia yielded an agreement to forge a new climate-change treaty by the end of 2009 that would succeed Kyoto Protocol provisions expiring at the end of 2012.
"I think there should have been at least an endorsement, that the leaders of the G8 countries fully support actions to bring about those deep cuts," he said.
Pachauri said climate change was moving faster and more destructively than once thought and only seven years remained for decisive action.
To limit global temperature increases at century's end to no more than 2.0 to 2.4 degrees Celsius (3.6 to 4.3 degrees Fahrenheit), emissions have to peak no later than 2015, he said.
"It is absolutely essential not to postpone the kinds of actions that we have identified with stabilisation of the Earth's climate and limiting the temperature increase to about 2 C [3.6 F]," Pachauri said.
"The sooner we start reducing emissions, the greater the likelihood of avoiding some of the more serious impacts and temperature increases that are going to take place a decade or two down the road," he said.
Since 2002, Pachauri has chaired the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which synthesises the research of thousands of scientists into a benchmark report.
The IPCC was awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize along with former US vice president Al Gore.
Last year, the IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report warned that, without action, the planet's rising temperatures could unleash potentially catastrophic change to Earth's climate system, leading to hunger, drought, storms and massive species loss.
earlier related report
Experts acknowledged the Group of Eight's usefulness in setting a goal of at least halving worldwide greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
But, they complained, the G8 statement did not mention a base year by which this 50-percent cut would be compared.
Nor -- more importantly -- did it identify what cuts would be made in the next decade, a period critical for determining whether the fight against climate change will succeed or fail.
"It is a pretence that they understand the problem and plan to take needed actions," said James Hansen, one of the major figures in the history of climate science.
"In reality, they are taking actions that guarantee that we deliver to our children climate catastrophes that are out of their control."
At their summit in the resort town of Toyako, G8 leaders agreed to "consider and adopt" the goal of achieving a cut of at least 50 percent in worldwide carbon emissions by 2050, but they made no targeted promise for action in the medium term.
Hansen, who heads the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, was one of the first climate scientists to sound an alarm about the threat of global warming.
In an email, he excoriated the summit for failing to mention specific action against coal, which he characterised as the greatest peril.
The most abundant and polluting of the main fossil fuels, coal has enjoyed a resurgence as countries look for a cheaper alternative to oil and gas.
Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the UN's Nobel-winning panel of climate scientists, said the Toyako statement lacked some "very vital details," especially over the plans for the medium term.
"The sooner we start reducing emissions, the greater the likelihood of avoiding some of the more serious impacts and temperature increases that are going to take place a decade or two down the road," he said from Delhi.
Pachauri pointed to scenarios sketched last year in the fourth assessment report by his organisation, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
In it, the IPCC said that the evidence for human interference was now incontrovertible and that the climate was already starting to change.
In the past century, it said, Earth's mean global temperature rose by 0.74 degrees Celsius (1.33 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial times, and this had already triggered glacier erosion, loss of snow and ice cover in alpine regions and retreating permafrost.
It gave a "best estimate" of further warming of between 1.8 and 4.0 C (3.24 and 7.24 F) by 2100.
The higher the temperature, the greater the impact from drought, floods, rising sea levels and more intense storms, spelling hunger, sickness and hardship for many millions.
These temperatures themselves are chiefly dependent on atmospheric levels of global warming gases, disgorged by burning of oil, gas and coal.
Cedric Philibert, a French expert at the International Energy Agency (IEA) in Paris, said one of the biggest problems was that these gases had an inertial effect.
Even if all emissions were stopped today, the warming would continue for a number of years because of the build-up of existing gas concentrations.
"It takes between 15 and 20 years for any change to take effect," said Philibert.
Pachauri said that, by factoring in the 20th-century increase in temperature and CO2 pollution already pumped out this century, emissions would have to peak by 2015 to limit overall warming to 2.0-2.4 degrees Celsius (3.6-4.3 degrees Fahrenheit).
By postponing the cap until, say, the 2030s or the 2040s, Earth's temperature would stay higher and for longer, he said.
Added to this is the risk that higher temperatures could unleash poorly-understood triggers which could amplify the warming at a stroke.
Pep Canadell, executive director with the Global Carbon Project, an Australian government-backed research scheme, said that even if the G8 goal of 2050 were met, emissions would have to be further ratcheted down.
"If after 2050, greenhouse emissions were to remain stable for the rest of the century without any further emission cuts, the temperature (warming) of the planet would far exceed 3-4 degrees [5.4-7.2 F], so the 2050 emissions target is only the first step towards dealing with climate change."
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G8 leaders agree on halving emissions by 2050
Toyako, Japan (AFP) July 8, 2008
The Group of Eight major powers agreed Tuesday to at least halve global carbon emissions by 2050 in what leaders hailed as a step forward, but developing nations rejected as an "empty slogan".
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