Global warming: Not too late to rein in climate change, group says
The International Energy Agency urges governments to take interim steps to reduce emissions even before a hoped-for climate treaty, saying aggressive measures can still limit global warming.
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Indeed, focusing on those national interim efforts is becoming an integral part of international climate talks, noted Christina Fugueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, in an interview on the eve of interim talks in Bonn back in April. Negotiations are taking place under the UNFCCC's aegis.Skip to next paragraph
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The IEA's proposals are intended to fill what has been dubbed "the ambition gap," meaning the gap between what countries have already agreed to do and what will be required by 2020 to stay on the 2-degree path.
In advance of global climate talks in Warsaw in November, negotiators – and not just environmental groups trying to button-hole them – "are saying: Let us take a look at everything that we are doing. Let us learn from that. Let us bring it to the fore and figure out how we are going to take that to scale in a timely fashion to that we can actually bridge that gap," Ms. Fugueres said.
The IEA report indeed shows that in the energy sector, responsible for two-thirds of the greenhouse-gas emissions globally, major emitters are making progress.
In the US, for instance, greenhouse-gas emissions for each kilowatt-hour of electricity produced has fallen since 2003 to mid-1990s levels, a decline driven by economic downturn but also by the increased availability of relatively inexpensive natural gas extracted from once-marginal reservoirs by fracturing, or "fracking." Natural gas releases about half the CO2 that coal does for each megawatt-hour of electricity produced, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.
From 2011 to 2012, US CO2 emissions from energy production dropped by 200 million tons. Indeed, the US and the European Union were the only two entities to see emissions fall during that period.
Meanwhile, in China, which is now the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, the growth rate in CO2 emissions from generating electricity eased from nearly 900 grams per kilowatt-hour in 2003 to just under 750 grams in 2012, meaning that as China adds to its electric output it is emitting proportionately less carbon to do so.
Still, while the growth rate in emissions is slowing, emissions overall are still rising. Between 2011 to 2012, China's CO2 emissions from energy production grew by 300 million tons.
In addition, at their weekend summit in Rancho Mirage, Calif., President Obama and China's President Xi Jinping agreed to cut emissions of another potent class of greenhouse gases – hyrdofluorocarbons (HFCs). Although far less abundant than atmospheric CO2, atom for atom HFCs are from 140 to 11,700 times more effective over a 100-year period at absorbing and re-radiating heat than CO2.
Meanwhile, in May daily concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere reached 400 atoms of C02 for every 1 million atoms of atmosphere, as measured at a long-running sampling station on Hawaii's Mauna Loa volcano. That's a level the planet hasn't seen in several million years, when the climate was far warmer. The concentrations at Mauna Loa are recorded after deducting CO2 emissions from the volcano.
Averaged across several measuring sites globally, however, monthly CO2 concentrations are a few part-per-million lower. But either way emissions are on a trajectory that if left unchecked could top 450 ppm by the middle of the century, several researchers say. Stabilizing concentrations at 450 ppm would leave a 50-50 chance of holding global average temperatures to the 2-degree C. target.