The Third Degree

Publication - 31 January, 2010
This briefing paper examines the implications of governments' commitments to tackling climate change in terms of overall emission reductions, expected rises in average global temperature (compared to pre-industrial times) and consequent impacts on people and the environment.

Executive summary: Governments' combined commitments to curbing global warming, made prior to the Copenhagen climate summit set the world on track for an increase in average global temperature of 3 degrees C (5.4 degrees F) or more - when compared to pre-industrial temperatures. Avoiding catastrophic climate change calls for limiting temperature rise (as far as possible) below 2 degrees C. This target was agreed in mid-2009 by governments that are major emitters of greenhouse gases (GHG). It was also the stated objective of the Copenhagen Accord, a non-binding political declaration concluded at the Copenhagen climate summit in December 2009.

There is a huge gap between what governments are currently committed to and what they need to do in cutting emissions. To stay below the warming 'limit' of 2 degrees C, industrialised nations as a group must reduce their GHG emissions by 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. Developing nations together must reduce their projected growth in emissions by 15-30 percent by the same date. These efforts must be enshrined in a fair, ambitious and legally binding treaty.

The Copenhagen Accord called on governments to submit to the UN Climate Convention secretariat, by 31 January 2010, their pledges for reducing emissions 2020 and on voluntary mitigation actions. The date provided an opportunity for highlighting just how far governments are from taking the action that is required for combating climate change.

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Number of pages: 9