The world is already on its way to a warmer future, and without radical change, experts said yesterday, that temperature rise soon will reach crisis levels.
Scientists estimate that the planet has already warmed by about 0.8 degree Celsius since the 1850s, and new projections put temperature rise as high as 4 degrees by the middle of the 21st century if current emissions levels persist.
Greenhouse gas reductions to date are failing to address climate change, said Naoko Ishii, CEO of the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the financial mechanism of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.
"We are on the wrong track in terms of global environmental management," Ishii said yesterday at a discussion hosted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. "We are dangerously close to the limits of safe planetary boundaries, and we are racing with time."
According to a recent report by the GEF Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel (STAP), at current emissions levels, warming could reach 2 degrees Celsius by 2030 and up to 6 degrees before the end of the century.
"The report makes it crystal-clear incremental improvement ... will not suffice," Ishii said. "We need a transformational change to arrest this very, very worrisome downward spiral."
Viable ways remain to close the gap
At the 2011 U.N. climate talks in Durban, South Africa, the global community agreed to signing an international climate treaty in 2015 that would come into effect in 2020 with the goal to keep temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.
To achieve that goal, the "Emissions Gap Report 2012" by the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) found that greenhouse gas emissions needed to peak around 2020 or before. Emissions need to be a quarter below current levels by 2030 and 50 percent below current levels by 2050.
If all existing pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions were implemented, there would still be a 14-gigaton surplus in the amount of emissions produced and where they need to be. However, the UNEP report also determined there are economically viable ways to close the gap.
By combining strict compliance with more ambitious pledges, the potential exists to bring down emissions by 17 gigatons, said Joseph Alcamo, chief scientist at UNEP. But the key is to pursue policy packages that appeal to local and national self-interests.
Implementing bus rapid transit and vehicle performance standards, for instance, has the almost immediate and calculable effects of improving local air quality and easing traffic, he said. It also has the associated benefit of cutting down carbon emissions.
"Those in climate change have been narrow-minded with mitigation; now we need to see multiple connections between climate mitigation policies and increasing well-being all across the board," Alcamo said.
The STAP report specifically recommends that the GEF broaden its focus in helping developing countries transition to a low-carbon economy. It advises a shift from promoting single-technology or single-sector solutions to systematic solutions that combine things like reducing energy demand with policy development and innovative information technology systems.
Involvement from private sector essential
Governments and institutions must also address adaptation, added Rosina Beirbaum, a professor of natural resources and the environment at the University of Michigan. "If we wait more, adaptation measures will be more costly and less effective," she said.
To effectively tackle climate change would require investing 2 percent of global gross domestic product, or $1.5 trillion per year, to stop the increase in greenhouse gas emissions, said Pavan Sukhdev, head of UNEP's Green Advisory Economy Initiative.