At Poland climate talks, Al Gore calls for tough CO2 limits

Speaking at the international climate talks in Poznań, Poland, on Friday, Al Gore called for a stricter upper limit on greenhouse-gas concentrations in the atmosphere.

REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
Former US Vice President Al Gore called for steep greenhouse-gas emissions cuts at a UN climate-change conference in Poznań, Poland, on Friday.

Speaking at the international climate talks in Poznań, Poland, on Friday, Al Gore called for a stricter upper limit on acceptable atmospheric greenhouse-gas concentrations.

The former vice president and Nobel laureate told a gathering of environment ministers from 145 countries that they need to set a new global goal of stabilizing carbon dioxide levels to no more than 350 parts per million. Reuters reports:

Previous targets called for 450 parts per million, but a report [PDF] published this year by leading scientists in The Open Atmospheric Science Journal say that this figure must be no more than 350 "[i]f humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted."

Current atmospheric concentrations are at 387 parts per million and rising.

"If the present overshoot of this target CO2 is not brief," the report's abstract concludes, "there is a possibility of seeding irreversible catastrophic effects."

An EU pact

A bright spot in the otherwise faltering Poznań talks appeared as news that the European Union had patched up a rift between its wealthier western countries and its poorer eastern ones to agree on emissions targets.

In what the Guardian (Britain) headlines as a "historic leap towards low-carbon future," European leaders agreed on a plan to cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 20 percent by 2020 compared with 1990 levels. The plan involves establishing emissions caps that vary across the union's 27 countries, as well as an EU-wide carbon-trading scheme.

But the EU accord, while perhaps a triumph of diplomacy, does not square with what Gore and leading scientists say is necessary to avert catastrophic climate change. According to the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Fourth Assessment Report, if the world's wealthy countries cut their greenhouse-gas emissions by 25 percent to 40 percent below 1990 levels, carbon dioxide concentrations would stabilize at 450 parts per million, not 350.

Writing in the Guardian, columnist George Monbiot condemned the agreement for falling short of what was needed and for giving Europe the opportunity to push its emissions targets onto the developing world:

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