Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Emissions Gap

Earlier this year a study was conducted by the UN that resulted in a document called the Emissions Gap Report. The report provides a sobering assessment of the gap between ambition and reality when it comes to carbon dioxide emission reductions. The study shows that if we continue business as usual the world will be emitting 58 gigatons of CO2 per year in 2020. This is unacceptable if we have any hope of achieving the goal of only a 2 degree rise in global temperature, an international goal set at COP 16 in Cancun, Mexico in 2010. If we want to achieve this goal, emissions must be reduced to 44 gigatons per year or below by 2020. In addition to the sobering data, the Emissions Gap report provides some ways to bridge the 14 gigaton canyon between reality and ambition. 

The Emissions Gap Report from 2011.
What is important to remember is that it is completely possible to achieve our ambition of 44 gigatons of emissions goal. The catch is that we have to act now. The problem is that current investments in infrastructure, factories, transportation, and buildings are locking in high energy use patterns. So what must be done is that new investments be directed toward renewable projects, and green infrastructure. When you look at the data it shows the energy sector contributes 35% of total emissions, the next highest is industry with 18% of the total, followed by transport(13%), agriculture(11%), and the building sector(8%). What this data tells us is that the most effective way to reduce emissions quickly would be to recreate the energy sector, then follow that up with reforms in all other sections of society that are major emitters. 

A basic cartoon of how CDM's work.
One reason that the predicted carbon emissions rise each year is because developing countries continue to develop faster than predicted. There is a system in place to help developing countries develop in a green way. It is called the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). In a very basic sense it is supposed to help industrialize undeveloped countries using renewable technologies and the support of developed nations. The problem with the CDM is that it is part of the larger development of international carbon markets. Essentially developed countries that help undeveloped countries industrialize in a clean way get the carbon credits for the underdeveloped countries' environmentally clean society. What this does is give the dirty developed countries credits to trade on the market when they themselves have done nothing to reduce emissions, and it is their emissions that caused the problem in the first place. In order to reach the goal of 44 gigatons of CO2 emissions annually by 2020 the world needs to step up clean development, especially in large developed countries who emit the most, and possibly establish international carbon markets that include CDMs.

If you want to have a look at the report yourself it can be found at:

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