Global greenhouse gas emissions are expected to be eight to 12 billion tonnes higher than target levels in 2020, which means the hope of limiting global temperature increases to 2°C (35°F) this century is fading fast. These warnings come from a recently released United Nations report ahead of the body’s annual climate talks next week. Scientists previously identified the upper threshold of two degrees Celsius as the point where the worst effects of climate change could be avoided, but this would require a 14 percent reduction of emissions by 2020. Even if surveyed countries stick to existing emission-reduction agreements, according to the report, it is unlikely to be enough to mitigate the worst.

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“The window of opportunity of trying to meet this two-degree target threshold is, in a sense, becoming ever-more elusive,” said UN Environment Programme (UNEP) chief Achim Steiner. This year’s annual report projected 2020 “carbon dioxide equivalents” levels at around 59 billion tonnes, a billion tonnes higher than the estimate in last year’s report. As emissions increase year on year, the outlook get progressively worse

“Achieving the two-degree goal is with every year less possible. Emissions always rise, even though they need to sink sharply,” German Institute for International and Security Affairs researcher Oliver Geden told AFP.

Even though there are those who want to see emissions targets modified or dropped altogether, UNEP argues that the goal is still achievable. The agricultural sector in particular, which accounts for 11 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, has huge reductions potential. Reduced tilling and increased tree and shrub planting comprise at least two strategies that could eliminate up to four billion tons of greenhouse gases by 2020.

Another preventative measure that has been discussed includes providing international financial support to developing nations so that they can build their own renewable energy sources. “If Africa is by default forced to go down the fossil-fuel path, we are adding an entire China economy to the global carbon budget, to the global oil and gas markets, in just the next 20 or 30 years,” Steiner said.

For every measure that fails now, or isn’t even attempted, more difficult, riskier and expensive steps will be needed later to prevent a global catastrophe.


Images by FlickrAlejandro Espinosa