The world remains far away from meeting UN-backed goals on holding back climate change, setting the stage for major damage without more ambitious efforts to cut emissions, a study said Tuesday.
Scientists who support climate action said that China, the largest source of carbon blamed for rising temperatures, is on track to surpass its own targets but that its overall emissions are growing more quickly than thought.
The controversial UN-led Copenhagen summit in 2009 agreed to limit global warming to 2.0 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, a goal some environmentalists say is already too timid.
At the latest UN talks underway in Panama City, the Climate Action Tracker, which aims to keep track of countries’ efforts, found a yawning gap between governments’ pledges and their track records when added together.
The planet is “very, very far away” from meeting the 2.0-degree goal, said Bill Hare, a lead author of the major 2007 UN scientific report on climate change and director at Potsdam-based research group Climate Analytics.
“We are heading towards a warming of well over 3.0 degrees at present unless there are major improvements in the pledges,” Hare, who has advised environmental group Greenpeace, told a news conference.
Hare said that while even 2.0-degree warming is problematic, the higher rate puts the world at risk to major problems such as more frequent wildfires and rising sea levels — a top concern for low-lying nations.
“The warming levels that we’re heading towards — 3.0 degrees — could easily result in massive damage to vulnerable ecosystems from one end of the planet to another,” Hare said.
“We would see, particularly in Africa, very dangerous threats to food production and availability if present agricultural practices don’t change fast enough,” he said.
The week-long talks in Panama aim to prepare for the conference of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change opening next month in Durban, South Africa, where governments will face hard questions on future climate action.
The Kyoto Protocol’s requirements to cut carbon emissions — which apply only to wealthy nations — expire at the end of 2012.