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Limiting global warming to 2 degree Celsius more difficult

Press release | 18-11-2011

Due to upward revisions of greenhouse gas emission projections in emerging economies, such as India, Brazil, Mexico and China, limiting global warming to 2 °C has become more difficult. This is one of the main conclusions of the report Climate Policy after Kyoto – Analytical insights into key issues in the climate negotiations, published by the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency today, together with Forks in the Road – Alternative routes for international climate policies and their consequences for the Netherlands. Both reports provide input for the next climate negotiation round in Durban, in December 2011.

Limiting global warming to 2 °C above pre-industrial levels is the objective agreed on in international climate negotiations. For this purpose, countries have made proposals to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. For developed countries these reductions are based on their 1990 emission levels, whereas for developing countries these are based on projected levels without climate policy. In recent climate talks (in Bangkok in April 2011 and Bonn in June 2011) some emerging countries presented upward revisions of emission projections without climate policy. This has caused the reduction proposal of Brazil, for instance, to decrease from 37-39% to 17-21% below their original emission projections without climate policy. At the same time, international institutions increased the projected growth of emissions in China, as this country seems less affected by the current crisis than developed countries.

PBL calculations in the report Climate Policy after Kyoto show that the sum of all reduction proposals would lead to a greenhouse gas emission level of 51 to 52 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent by 2020. This compares to an earlier estimate of 49 to 50 billion tonnes, and to an expected 56 billion tonnes without climate policy. Although the proposals do lead to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting global warming to 2 °C will be very difficult with the currently projected emission levels for 2020.

Delaying action would also mean that the costs of emission reductions later in the century would increase, substantially. Moreover, much would depend on future technological developments, such as bio-energy combined with carbon capture and storage. The report also shows that the actual emission levels by 2020 strongly depend on decisions regarding deforestation and surplus CO2 emission rights (‘hot air’), to be taken in Durban. In this city, the next climate negotiation round will take place next month.

In recent years, many alternative routes have been proposed for international climate policies, instead of those of the UNFCCC. The PBL report Forks in the Road inventories these proposals, which vary from bottom-up initiatives by cities and groups of countries that take responsibility for stringent climate policies, to letting climate policies piggyback on other policies that may also lead to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, such as policies on innovation, industry, labour, and air quality. The PBL concludes that, while the proposed alternative routes cannot replace the current negotiations under the UNFCCC, they can be useful ways to increase societal support for climate policy.

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For further information, please contact the PBL press office at tel: +31 70 3288688, or email to persvoorlichting@pbl.nl