End the carbon spending spree

The world has already spent 40% of its allotted carbon budget since 1990 and has little more than half of what it is allowed to spend until 2100, the WWF said in Bangkok this week.

But if all countries tightened their energy belts a strict global carbon budget between now and 2050 based on a fair distribution between rich and poor nations could potentially prevent dangerous climate change and keep temperature rise well below 2°C, a new WWF report shows.

If the world does not stop its energy spending spree, it runs the risk of going bankrupt by 2025, the organisation cautioned. Stephan Singer, director of global energy policy at the WWF, called on countries to take their energy responsibilities seriously.

‘To avoid the worst and most dramatic consequences of climate change, governments need to apply the strictest measures to stay within a tight and total long-term global carbon budget,” he said. ‘If governments ‘relax’ the rules according to which they distribute emissions, we will end up in climate chaos. There is no such thing as carbon offset for planet Earth. We have just one planet and it needs one emissions’ budget.”

In the report, ‘Sharing the effort under a global carbon budget”, the WWF commissioned Dutch energy consultancy Ecofys to research the amount of carbon dioxide the world could emit to keep temperature rise down to 2°C.

WWF’s calculations allow a global yearly emission average for the next 91 years of no more than 9.5 gigatonnes CO2 equivalent. In relative terms this is about 20% of what the world emits today.

The release of the report took place amid climate talks in Bangkok where the WWF is lobbying among countries for an inclusive climate deal by the end of the year at the big climate indaba in Copenhagen.

If South Africa follows its long-term climate mitigation scenario, its emissions should peak by latest 2025, then stabilise for about a decade and then start declining. But no official plan has been tabled about when South Africa plans for its emissions to go below 1990 levels.

WWF South Africa’s trade and investment programme adviser Peet du Plooy cautioned that South Africa has to limit its greenhouse gases to below 1990 levels by 2030. But it needs to start acting now if it wants to meet that target and not simply ‘defer the bill”.

During the intense climate negotiations South Africa has been putting pressure on the United States to reduce its emissions by between 25% and 40% below 1990 levels by 2020.

To start saving carbon, forests would have to be targeted to act as carbon sinks, the WWF’s report said. Around 2060 net global emissions would have to be negative and energy use in the world should emit little or no greenhouse gasses, it said. This means renewable energy resources will play a key role.

What the report highlighted is that the world has to tighten its belt and can’t rely on a few countries to carry the can. It suggests three pathways to reduce emissions, all in line with the budget. These plans could be applied to distribute the burden and the benefits of a global carbon budget in a fair and equitable way.

First, greenhouse development rights, in terms of which all countries need to reduce emissions below business as usual based on their per capita emissions, poverty thresholds and GDP per capita.

Second, contraction and convergence (C&C), through which per capita allowances converge from a country’s current level to a level equal for all countries within a given period.

Third, common but differentiated convergence (CDC), through which developed countries’ per capita emissions converge to an equal level for all countries and others converge to the same level once their per capita emissions reach a global average.

By 2050 the greenhouse development rights plan requires developed nations, such as the US, Canada, Japan and the European Union (the Annex 1 countries), to reduce emissions by 157% as a group.

‘Given that they cannot cut domestic emissions by more than 100%, they will need to finance emission reductions in other countries to reach their total,” the WWF said.

Under the greenhouse development rights plan developed countries will be allowed to continue to grow emissions until at least 2050, but will be required to reduce emissions after 2025 under the two remaining allocation options.

Under the C&C and CDC methodology, China, for example, would be required to reduce emissions by at least 70% by 2050 compared with 1990.

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Yolandi Groenewald
Yolandi Groenewald
Yolandi Groenewald is a South African environmental reporter, particularly experienced in the investigative field. After 10 years at the Mail & Guardian, she signed on with City Press in 2011. Her investigative environmental features have been recognised with numerous national journalism awards. Her coverage revolves around climate change politics, land reform, polluting mines, and environmental health. The world’s journey to find a deal to address climate change has shaped her career to a great degree. Yolandi attended her first climate change conference in Montreal in 2005. In the last decade, she has been present at seven of the COP’s, including the all-important COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009. South Africa’s own addiction to coal in the midst of these talks has featured prominently in her reports.

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