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The Copenhagen Accord at three months

By Sean Pool on April 1, 2010 at 9:14 am

"The Copenhagen Accord at three months"

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110 countries support new global effort to achieve climate safety

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CAP’s Andrew Light and Sean Pool have put together a simple update on the status of the Copenhagen Accord, and how close it brings us to stabilizing global temperature rise at 2 degrees Celsius.  Click the map above to go to their interactive tool. I repost their comments here.

The agreement that emerged from December’s U.N. climate summit in Copenhagen continues to attract support from a growing number of nations despite naysayers who still insist that the meeting ended in failure. A recent Reuters article shows that there are now 110 countries on board, including the world’s major carbon emitters, representing more than 80 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

These countries’ collective commitments will not yet achieve the accord’s stated goal of holding temperature rise over pre-industrial levels at 2 degrees Celsius, but achieving these commitments could hold us to a 3-degree increase rather than the 4.8 degree rise we would see by 2100 under a business as usual scenario. These commitments also represent a vital first step toward achieving the 2-degree goal.

graph of commitments to emissions  reductionsThese results are consistent with CAP’s previously published analysis following the first deadline for submissions to the accord on January 31. Modeling from Project Catalyst showed at that point that the largest emitters had increased their ambitions for reducing carbon pollution from the period prior to the December Copenhagen climate summit to their January submissions to the Copenhagen Accord. Developed countries increased their reductions from 3.6 to 4.9 gigatons annually by 2020 and developing countries boosted theirs from 8.7 to 8.9 gigatons by 2020. More recent numbers from Project Catalyst project these commitments to the accord at 5.0 and 9.2 gigatons respectively for developed and developing countries.

These commitments bring us a bit less than 5 gigatons shy of the reductions needed to stabilize temperature increase at 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels assuming that countries succeed in meeting the high end of the goals they have set for themselves and also that commitments tied to other countries’ comparable efforts go forward.

So how do we achieve the remaining reductions needed to achieve climate safety? The first step in this process is to make the Copenhagen accord binding in order to lock in the reduction commitments, and the second is to increase the ambition of those parties that have signed onto the accord.

On the first issue, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon previously pledged to shift the Copenhagen Accord from a political agreement to a legally binding agreement by the next U.N. climate summit in Cancun, Mexico this December. U.S. Climate Envoy Todd Stern has agreed that we should be moving toward a legal agreement this year. Most participants in the process believe that the 2010 meeting in Cancun should at least include a discussion of how to make the accord legally binding by the 2011 meeting in South Africa if it cannot be made legally binding before then.

On the second issue, the easiest way to increase the ambitions of countries signing onto the accord is to fix one of the biggest holes in the agreement: the lack of any emission reduction targets for those parties signing on. This gap is in sharp contrast to the Kyoto Protocol, which did include such targets. Reduction targets for developed and developing countries, starting with the 17 to 20 largest emitters responsible for almost 80 percent of emissions globally, should be the first priority. This would bring us closer to the overall temperature goal of the accord than simply increasing the number of parties signing onto it since the countries that have not yet made commitments collectively represent a tiny fraction of global emissions.

graph of emissions under current proposalsAny emission reduction targets added to the Copenhagen Accord will have to conform to the 2 degree Celsius temperature target that is part of the accord. As such, additional emission targets would need to aim to close the 5-gigaton gap from the current Copenhagen pledges if this figure does, in fact, represent the reductions needed to achieve the 2 degree Celsius target for climate safety. If it turns out that we need to achieve greater additional reductions than 5 gigatons, then we should do so.

The United States can make the needed reductions, but it would be a big help if Congress were to pass legislation like the American Clean Energy and Security Act, which would achieve overall emissions reductions greater than the current U.S. pledge of 17 percent cuts below 2005 levels by 2020. The direct set aside in ACES for international forestry programs””which is separate from the allowable forestry offsets in the bill””could alone achieve 750 megatons of reductions annually by 2020. But if emissions reduction programs like this are eliminated in a Senate bill, then these additional reductions would be difficult to achieve, even if the bill is ultimately successful. Those interested in a global agreement on achieving climate safety will therefore have to work hard to make sure that Senate legislation is structured so that it generates revenue to pay for such programs.

One good outcome of Copenhagen is that the accord is still a work in progress. Our calculations of what can be achieved by current pledges under the accord are not final. They can still be improved. It doesn’t make sense to worry that the commitments made so far put us on a disastrous pathway to a world 3, 4, or more degrees warmer. That would only be a legitimate worry if the Copenhagen Accord had been finalized last December as a legally binding document at the current level of commitments. Instead, we still have time to use the accord to get us to a safer world.

Andrew Light is a Senior Fellow and Sean Pool is a Special Assistant for the Energy Policy Team at the Center for American Progress.

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5 Responses to The Copenhagen Accord at three months

  1. Ken Johnson says:

    Re “… achieving these commitments could hold us to a 3-degree increase …”

    From the Sustainability Institute: “We’ve ‘run the numbers’ and our most recent analysis shows essentially the same results that we reported December 19th at the close of the Copenhagen Summit: if current proposals were fully implemented average global temperature would overshot the 2° goal and would in fact increase by approximately 3.9°C (7.0°F) by 2100.”

    Andrew and Sean: Can you comment on the difference between these two projections? Is this a result of different assumptions, or different modeling methodologies?

  2. PizKesch says:

    According to James Hansen’s research, 450ppm (+/- 100ppm) is the CO2 level in the atmosphere which corresponded in the past (at equilibrium, so maybe not by the end of the century) to ice-free poles or ~60m higher sea levels.

    So we are aiming for that now? Great.

    [JR: The world shifted from a 550 target to 450 a few years ago. That has been the target for pretty much every major scientific organization and others for a while. Hansen may or may not be right -- but neither he nor anyone else knows exactly how long one can stay above 450. Since we're above 350 and will lmost certainly hit 450 under any plausible scenario of reality, the trick is to get back to 350 asap. 2100 would be ideal, but would be the greatest collective achievement in the history of humankind -- by far -- and require a nonstop WWII-scale approach by every major country.]

  3. Leif says:

    “A non stop WW II approach by every major country.”

    Why the Hell NOT!

    WW II ushered in the largest expansion of capital, innovation, jobs, education, health innovation and more the world has ever seen. Society has basically has lived on the spoils for sixty years. And the object was to kill as many of the opposing forces as possible. Not a very nobel endeavor.

    A world wide collateral effort to salvage earth’s life support systems and prevent humanity from stepping over the door step of doom is a far higher calling. A century of collective effort would show us all that humanity can in fact accomplish amazing things and would eliminate the need for the huge military budgets of the present. (Police actions, yes, B1s no.)

    WW II was fought on credit. Many prospered in the end. Money is no object if humanity is successful at WW III. If we fail, well I do not see an inability to pay our collective bills much of a problem there either.

    WW III? Hell yes, I will go!

  4. Ken Johnson says:

    Re #1: SI projects a 3.9C temp increase in 2100 over preindustrial assuming “confirmed proposals” and 2.9C assuming “potential proposals”. (The CAP projection of 3C might correspond to the more optimistic scenario.) The 2020 reductions from BAU for these two scenarios are 8.04 and 11.94 Gton-CO2e/yr, respectively (from a 62 Gt BAU baseline). The 2020 reductions for the “low emissions path” (2C increase in 2100) is 14.15 Gton.

    By contrast, the CAP projections for 2020 reductions are 5.0 Gton for the “low case” and 9.2 Gton for the “high case” (from 61 Gton BAU). Which of these is the basis of the 3C projection? (The “More recent numbers” link seems to be broken.)

  5. ascoss says:

    Climate change is a global problem, and yet each one of us has the power to make a difference. Even small changes in our daily behaviour can help prevent greenhouse gas emissions without affecting our quality of life. In fact, they can help save us money!