Scientists have the picture clear. James Hansen et al, in “The Case for Young People and Nature: A Path to a Healthy, Natural, Prosperous Future”,  explain us very clearly that the impact of the actual 0,8°C global warming is causing already several global warming reinforcing mechanisms, like ice melting, ocean acidification, expansion of hot dry subtropical climate belts, etc.

They warn us, with clear scientific arguments, that sustained greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations of more than 350 parts per million (ppm) will lead to very dangerous climate disruption. We now live in a world with 390 ppm.

In 1992, time when the climate convention was agreed upon, an objective was set: “The ultimate objective of this Convention is to achieve stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” At that time, the GHG concentration in the atmosphere was of 354 ppm.

Instead of reducing emissions, and reducing or stabilizing GHG concentrations, those have been growing year after year. During the ’90s GHG concentrations grew with an average of 1,5 points of ppm per year, during the first decade of the 21st century with 2 ppm/year[1].  This translates in an increment of the warming rate: Over the last 100 years, the earth has warmed at the rate of 0.07 degrees Celsius per decade. Over the last 40 years, the rate has doubled to 0.15 degrees per decade.

Hansen et al, state in their article that it is necessary to reduce 6% of global emissions per year in order to return under 350 ppm and stay out of the climate dangerous zone. Compare this with the strongest demand for emission reductions put forward under the UNFCCC negotiations, which is a Bolivian proposal, which demands developed countries to reduce 50% by 2017, over 1990 levels[2]. Taking into account that for the period 2008 -2012 (first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol) they already committed to reduce 5% under 1990 levels, the reduction in the 2013-2017 period would be of  50%-5%= 45%, which makes 9% per year for developed countries, more than what Hansen et al ask for.

But lets bring this in perspective. Taking into account global emissions would have to reduce 6% globally per year, offer the same five-year period, Hansen’s proposal implies a 30% in the period 2013-2017. Under the Bolivian proposal, developed countries would reduce 45%. Taking into account developed countries represent a little less than half of the global emissions, the remaining part that would have to be reduced by developing countries, during the same five-year period would be of 16,1% [3].

Such reductions would bring per capita emissions in average to 6,35 ton in developed countries, and 2,54 ton in developing countries[4]. It seems that analysed on a per capita basis, even Bolivia’s “extremist” proposal has not been fair for developing countries, even more so taking into account the historical climate debt they have, and the fact that developed countries have more technological and financial means than developing countries in order to implement a low-emission transition.

Now, let’s compare this with what are the actual pledges under the convention. Developed countries pledged to reduce 12 to 18% under 1990 levels[5]. So the reduction in the 2013-2017 period would be, in the case they comply with the 18% reduction promise: 18% minus the already committed 5% by 2012= 13%. Over a five-year period, this makes an average per year of 2,6% reduction. In the case of an only 12% reduction: 12%-5%=7%, or 1,4% reduction rate per year[6].

Adding to this that most developing countries, even though they are making huge efforts to deviate from their business-as-usual baselines, in fact will keep on incrementing their emissions up till at least 2017, mostly because of population growth and developing factors. The result is that even in the best of cases the global emission reduction will be well below 1,4% per year.

Hansen et al warn that if real emission reduction efforts are postponed until 2020, then the global reduction rate will need to be of 12% a year, if we want the world to return to a save zone. This is even more improbable than the 6% reduction rate they state is needed if we start tomorrow.

The good news is that the same authors –among them the renown economist Jeffrey Sachs- tell us that making this reductions is technically possible and even economically sensible. Even so, in the UNFCCC negotiations, the Bolivian proposal has been made ridicules, laughed away for not being economically nor politically credible.

If we don’t urgently take into account the warnings of serious scientists like Hansen, and his colleagues from 12 world-renown universities and research institutes, we are signing for a climate drama. Is it politically realistic to just reject their findings?

Translate the case to a more personal level: will parents spend everything they have on the possible survival –whatever low the chances- of a seriously ill child? Almost all parents would. In this case, Mother Earth is ill, and all our children will suffer outrageously if we don’t act rapidly.



[3] Calculated on the basis of a division of 52% GHG emissions by developing countries and 48% by developed countries, (data: 2008 World Recource Institute)

[4] Calculations based on estimated per capita emissions in developed countries of 11,56 ton/capita, and developing countries of 3,03 ton/capita. 52% of global emissions are originated in developing countries, while they represent 79,7% of the world population. (World Recource Institute, 2008 data)

[6] Taking into account that most high pledges are conditional on political factors, which haven’t been fullfilled up till today, highest chances only the low pledges will be complied.

1 Comment

  1. Dear Nele

    I am pleased to see you are still writing after the latest UNFCCC fiasco at Durban. We really must not only keep up but also to increase the pressure to force change.

    I live in Thailand but come from Australia where the government has recently legislated a carbon tax while promoting a great expansion of coal exports:

    My view as stated in a comment on the above blog is that the Australian government should be put on trial at the Hague charged with conspiring to commit genocide. If such a charge was laid surely it would create a storm of controversy with the potential to shake to present World economic order to the point of collapse. So I ask how can a charge be laid and who has the standing and resources to do so? Perhaps we can ask the government of Bolivia?

    As for the discussion about annual percentage wise reductions in emissions, I think this obscures the urgency of our crisis. Cuba did not end its over dependence on oil to sustain its people in easy annual reductions of 10% or more. The drop was more like 80% from one year to the next, and yet the people did survive and within 2 years the health and nutrition standards were higher than in the oil years.

    The graphs in the next post from ClimateCodeRed show why the whole World needs to take the Cuban approach:

    This does not imply say an 80% reduction in fossil fuel use for all countries equally, but sudden substantial reductions in many so-called underdeveloped countries ( I would prefer to call them not over-developed) and needed in the interests of justice alone, without even taking the needs of Mother Earth into account.

    Surely no country should allow large scale aviation e.g. flying of flowers, books, food etc to distant markets. Surely overseas flights by multi national business executives and tourists should cease.

    In my region Thailand and now VietNam and Cambodia rely largely on motorcycles for personal transport and increasingly on the motor car. We can all do what Cuba did i.e. go over to bicycles for urban transport in our cities and towns on the flood plains where most of us live.
    Also increasingly those with money are buying air-conditioners, where once everybody kept cool under the shade of trees and with houses built for natural ventilation. We can abandon these energy eaters and have more equal societies.

    Here again comes the question of who will take a lead. More than advocacy at international meetings is called for and the rich countries, despite all their resources continually fail.
    I suggest it is time some of the G77 nations took action as if they were in the same situation as Cuba 20 years ago.

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