Greenhouse cuts are not enough, says UN report

Greenhouse cuts are not enough, says UN report

THE greenhouse gas cuts promised around the world will not be enough to avoid the ”tipping point” into dangerous climate change, according to a United Nations report released before next week’s climate conference in Durban.

But the yawning, 6-billion-tonne ”emissions gap” between safe levels of emissions and the current situation could be bridged by breaking it down into bite-sized chunks, the report said.

”The window for addressing climate change is rapidly narrowing but equally the options for cost-effective action have never been more abundant,” the head of the UN environment program, Achim Steiner, said in a statement.

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If each sector of the global economy made a concerted push for best-practice emissions cuts and energy efficiency, the target could be met ”without any significant technical or financial breakthroughs needed”, Mr Steiner said.

To hold rising temperatures to about 2 degrees or less this century, nations would have to cut their combined emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases to 44 billion tonnes a year by 2020.

But the total is on track to sit at around 50 billion tonnes in 2020, even including already-promised emissions cuts such as Australia’s bipartisan commitment to reduce its carbon output by 5 per cent.

In addition to the planned cuts, the UN report said up to 3.9 billion tonnes of carbon emissions could be carved out of the electricity sector worldwide by tapping more renewable energy, building more efficient power plants and possibly by deploying some carbon capture and storage technology, in which greenhouse gas emissions are pumped back underground. Between 1.5 billion and 4.6 billion tonnes of emissions could be cut from industry’s total, up to 2 billion from transport and up to 4.2 billion from changes to forestry management.

Along with other proportionate savings from the building, agriculture and waste management sectors, these cuts in greenhouse gas emissions would add up to about 17 billion tonnes a year – ”more than enough” to give the world a better-then-even chance of avoiding dangerous climate change.

The average cost of reducing emissions would be about $39 per tonne of carbon dioxide, the report said, citing nine studies of fluctuating carbon prices.

The UN said a major problem that would have to be solved soon was the potential for ”double counting” greenhouse cuts. Rich nations, Australia in particular, wanted to achieve a substantial chunk of their emissions cuts by buying carbon credits from developing countries but ”in the absence of international rules it is likely that both sets of countries will want to claim credits for what is essentially the same project or activity”.

A separate report, released yesterday by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, said a price on carbon and emissions trading were essential if the world was to stay within the 2-degree rise limit.

”A significant carbon price is needed to induce technological change,” the OECD report said.

It said the most effective method was to use carbon taxes or emissions trading schemes.

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