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UN: Greenhouse gas emissions gap is out of control

We're definitely doomed this time

Opinion With the next round of international climate change talks looming, the usual sources are issuing the usual warnings that if massive cuts in carbon emissions aren't agreed then we're definitely really doomed this time.

This time it's the UN Environment Programme, which has just lobbed out a report saying that the "Greenhouse Gas Emissions Gap" is out of control:

Greenhouse gas emissions levels are now around 14 per cent above where they need to be in 2020.

Instead of declining, concentration [sic] of warming gases like carbon dioxide (CO2) are actually increasing in the atmosphere-up around 20 per cent since 2000.

If no swift action is taken by nations, emissions are likely to be at 58 gigatonnes (Gt) in eight years' time ... in part as a result of projected economic growth in key developing economies ...

Previous assessment reports have underlined that emissions need to be on average at around 44 Gt or less in 2020 to lay the path for the even bigger reductions needed at a cost that is manageable.

"This report is a reminder that time is running out," comments Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. But she insists: "the policy tools to allow the world to stay below a maximum 2 degrees Celsius are still available to governments".

The full report can be read in pdf here.


Of course Ms Figueres is right. If the world's governments choose to they can easily achieve the carbon reductions called for by the UNEP, IPCC and similar organisations: provided they can maintain authority over their citizens, anyway.

They might even be able to do so without destroying the world economy, by moving largely to nuclear power. The Fukushima disaster - following which not a single person is set to be measurably harmed by radiation - has shown that nuclear power is safe, and new research strongly suggests that it is sustainable for the foreseeable future too. However, these facts are not widely known and such a course is not being considered by any government.

Unfortunately the alternative, massive use of renewable power, means economic disaster and global poverty; and indeed all the more honest green campaigning groups admit this. They generally suggest that the human race should abandon any aspiration to greater wealth (or even maintenance of the same wealth, in the case of rich nations), and focus instead on some other goal.

But realistically, even if a few governments are willing to inflict misery on their people in pursuit of green goals - and some are, notably the British government - China and other developing powers are not. It seems unlikely that the US will move to weaken itself unilaterally as China's power grows, so it matters not at all that a few western European nations are content to hobble their own economies.

So nothing will happen at the Doha talks, and the carbon gap will appear. Given that global temperatures have obstinately refused to go up over the past decade and more, and even if they do the consequences seem likely to be fairly minor, that may not be such a bad thing after all. ®

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