Emission cuts: We’re two-thirds below what’s needed, UN says

Air pollution in London, as seen from Hackney. April 2015. [David Holt/Flickr]

The UN published its annual emission gap report on Tuesday (31 October), highlighting a dismal record:  ahead of COP23, countries fall two-thirds short of what is needed to reach the agreed reduction in emissions.

The report took stock of the current emission levels and the projected climate change and concluded that, although CO2 emissions have stalled since 2014 (a finding also supported by the EU’s joint research centre data), other overall greenhouse gas emissions keep rising.

It added that there is an “urgent need” to close the gap between the necessary reduction of greenhouse gas and the countries’ pledges, which so far cover only one-third of the needed reduction.

UN environment boss Erik Solheim said the impact of climate change is already being felt in the form of extreme weather events and there is a need to shift the policymakers’ mindset: “Talking less about ‘fixing environmental problems’ and more about ‘grasping economic and social opportunities’ is crucial.”

The UN report also explores technologies to capture emissions: in particular, the role of forests acting as ‘carbon sinks’ by storing CO2, and “capture and storage” technology whereby emissions from industry or transport are separated from the air, compressed and stored indefinitely.

These could be used in a “closed loop”, the authors suggest, by burning wood for energy and storing CO2 underground, therefore having net emission savings.

But geoengineering options such as altering the pH of the seas to save the barrier reef, or capturing CO2 from the atmosphere are still at an infant stage, the report said.

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Ahead of COP23

The timing of the report is key, as global leaders will meet in Bonn next week to discuss how they plan to cut emissions and reach the Paris Agreement target of below 2°C.

This year countries are preparing the “rules of the game” ahead of next year’s facilitating dialogue, where they will start negotiations to raise their climate targets, to be defined by 2020.

On the agenda are implementation rules including transparency of reporting, setting stock-taking milestones, and climate finance.

Developed countries, responsible for most of anthropogenic emissions, are supposed to contribute to the “loss and damage” fund and mitigation efforts of less developed countries and island states, who are going to be the first and worst impacted by climate change. But discussions on the topic are likely to be heated.

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Corporate capture?

A report released on Wednesday (1 November) by transparency NGOs shows that ‘big’ polluters representing coal, oil and gas could have access to the UN’s climate talks negotiating table and ‘pollute’ climate policy.

In a string of examples, the authors highlight how fossil-fuel corporations can ‘buy their way in’ by sponsoring COP events and preventing talks of direct regulation to tilt climate change policies in favour of market-based solutions.

Corporate Europe Observatory noted the irony that COP23 will take place in the heart of the Rhineland – the coal-mine of Europe – where public-shared companies are planning to further invest in the most polluting fossil fuel.

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