The mitigation plans of “climate progressive” nations fall far short of Paris-compliant pathways

2020-06-08

In 2019 global emissions were higher than ever before. 

Kevin Anderson, Visiting professor at Department of Earth Sciences, Natural Resources and Sustainable Development; Climate Change Leadership and Isak Stoddard, PhD student at Department of Earth Sciences, Natural Resources and Sustainable Development, two of the authors.

In 2019 global emissions were higher than ever before. Even the mitigation plans of two self-avowed ‘climate progressive’ countries, the UK and Sweden, fall far short of Paris-compliant pathways. We need immediate and unprecedented efforts to reduce emissions say Kevin Anderson, Isak Stoddard och John Broderick in a new article in Climate Policy.

You state that limiting global warming to 1.5˚C is almost certainly not going to happen. What is the main reason for that?

- Limiting global warming to 1.5°C is unlikely to happen considering the very small and rapidly dwindling global carbon budget associated with this particular temperature rise. I wish it was not so. As outlined in the latest IPPC report (IPCC, 2018), the difference in climate-related impacts between 1.5°C and 2°C is very significant. For the most vulnerable ecosystems and people it may very well be the difference between life and death. (I.S)

- Virtually all IPCC scenarios for holding to 1.5°C will require the planetary scale uptake of negative emissions technologies (NETs) – removing 100s of billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere in the latter half of the century. These technologies are, at best, only in very small pilot scale, and most are still little more than conceptual; yet the scenarios assume that they will expand to be similar in size to the current global oil and gas industry. This is,  we would argue, a misleading assumption. Whilst there may be an outside chance that such technologies may be scalable, we judge that this remains highly unlikely, and, given the incredibly small carbon budget remaining for 1.5°C, it is reasonable to conclude that holding to 1.5°C looks to be highly unlikely if not impossible. (K.A)

Can you explain the term carbon budget and why that is important?

- When carbon dioxide is emitted, much of it remains in the atmosphere for centuries to come; around 10-20% will still be there in ten thousand years. Carbon budgets are scientifically based quantifications of the remaining emission space to keep the rise in global temperature below a certain degree. When applied to international accords such as the Paris Agreement, they can be used to assess whether the world (and indeed its nations) are on track to meet the commitments enshrined in such agreements, or not. (K.A and I.S.)

Why is the current climate legislation insufficient?

- In our article, we decided to have a closer look at the climate legislation and policy frameworks of two of the most ‘progressive’ industrialized countries, Sweden and the U.K. What we found was that their mitigation plans fall far short of Paris-compliant pathways, in fact by more than a factor of two. If all countries of the world failed at the same rate as Sweden and the U.K., the global average temperature rise would likely be somewhere closer to 2.5-3C, rather than the 1.5-2C commitments of the Paris Agreement. (I.S.).

- The principal reasons for developing policies that fall far short of the Paris Agreement are political. We are simply unprepared to question our current political and economic system, which is now incompatible with holding emissions within the small carbon budgets accompanying the Paris Agreement. Instead we have chosen to deliberately manipulate our assumptions and increase our rhetoric to give the impression of success, when the reality is that we are passing on planetary climate chaos and uncertainty to our own children and other species. (K.A.)

How can we achieve a real mitigation agenda in the world as a whole?

- That is a million-dollar question. But in an upcoming paper we are writing together with a large interdisciplinary team of researchers, we are working on a related question: How come - despite 30 years of international negotiations, research and a wealth of initiatives – we have failed to bend the emissions curve and that global emissions have risen by over 60%? Possible reasons for this failure that we are exploring range from issues of governance, vested interests, socio-material lock-ins, geopolitics and the dominant economic paradigm and onto questions of psychology, social practices, equity, and the role of climate modelling and knowledge production. In focusing on failure there is of course a risk of further cementing our preconceptions about the inability of humanity to rapidly bend the emissions curve; to see the future as a continuation of the past. However, the hypothesis that we are working from is that exploring these diverse literatures may elucidate important guidance for rapid and deep mitigation, in a world increasingly effected by a changing climate. (I.S)

Read the new study: "A factor of two: how the mitigation plans of ‘climate progressive’ nations fall far short of Paris-compliant pathways".

Link to press release in Swedish

Read a blog post by the authors on the same subject in the Ecologist.

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