Failing to do so, however, will keep the world on a trajectory of 3- to 5-degree warming, he said, adding that after 2020, the prospect of curbing emissions becomes far more costly.
The World Bank released a report last week estimating the economic consequences of a 4-degree-Celsius rise in temperature (ClimateWire, Nov. 19). It identified potentially devastating impacts, including coastal flooding, disruption of the global food supply and increased water scarcity.
Following the report's release, two Democratic congressmen sent a letter to Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), chairman of the Energy and Power Subcommittee, urging them to schedule a hearing on the dangers posed by global warming.
"These are not hypothetical risks," notes the letter from committee ranking member Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and subcommittee ranking member Bobby Rush (D-Ill.).
Ceres, a coalition of the world's largest investors, also issued an open letter this week urging world governments to act decisively or risk trillions of dollars in losses and widespread economic disruption.
Door is closing, but not closed yet
Many options still exist for bringing emissions in line with recommended levels, according to the UNEP report. The majority of them have been proven, said Nick Nuttall, a spokesman for the UNEP.
"We've seen a lot of progress on the ground, from vehicle emissions standards in the U.S. to Australia phasing in energy-efficient lightbulbs," he said. "The question now is, how do we scale up, accelerate those efforts?"
The report identifies a total of 17 gigatons of emissions that could be curbed by 2020 using existing methods and technologies, targeting areas like transportation, forestry, industry and power.
Many policies are aimed not at lowering emissions, but at relieving congestion, conserving energy or improving health, Nuttall noted. Mexico City's recent implementation of rapid transit bus lanes, for instance, has improved traffic, while at the same time it has reduced the city's carbon emissions by an estimated 143,000 tons.
Improved forestry policies in Brazil, meanwhile, have saved as much as 3 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent in the last three years by averting deforestation, the report notes. These laws have also helped to preserve indigenous cultures and promote ecotourism.
"One of the best things about these reports is that they show us that this stuff isn't rocket science," said Keya Chatterjee, deputy director of the climate change program at the World Wildlife Fund. "There are avenues out there to achieve energy efficiency quickly.
"At a time when there's a huge disconnect between the evidence of climate change and the inaction on the part of governments, identifying the problem is not enough," Chatterjee added. "We've got to focus on the potential that's out there to reduce emissions."
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500