16 june 2015

[4C Note:
On June 8, leaders of the G7 group of developed economies agreed to meet the challenge of climate change through a 40-70% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and a 100% reduction by 2100. While most of the mainstream press hailed this commitment emthusiastically, critical commentators, such as Martin Wolf in the Financial Times and many environmentalists, were skeptical.

The author of the following commentary on the G7 climate statement is Stephan Singer, Director of Global Energy Policy at WWF International in Brussels, and a frequent contributor to the international discussions on the Climate Action Network-Europe (CAN-E) email list, through which we received his analysis on June 9. Since Mr. Singer’s email was informally written for the CAN-E network and contained a number of technical references to IPCC scenarios, we have, with his permission, edited it to focus on his main points.]

To be consistent with the G7 ambition to stay below 2 degrees in 2100, CO2 emissions need to be at around zero shortly after 2050 while going negative before the end of the century (SPM, Synthesis Report 2014 AR5, page 8). This is consistent with a 430 ppm CO2 eq concentration by 2100, and would give us estimated temperature changes by 2100 of an average 1.5 to 1.8 degree C (“likely”) with a wider possible range of 1.0 - 2.8 degree C. (SPM WG III 2014 AR5, Table SPM 1, page 13) . That means “game over” for fossil fuels well before the end of the century.

Nonetheless, overall CO2 emissions will need to decline rapidly in the years to come, otherwise negative emissions will have to kick in on an almost planetary scale much earlier to have a chance of not exceeding 2 degrees. Unless fossil fuels are phased out earlier then currently scheduled, a temperature threshold of 2 degree towards becomes “more unlikely”. Probably the best we could hope for as “likely” would be 2.5 degree C. We can’t even hope for 1.5 degree C in this scenario.

In other words, even full decarbonisation by 2100 would not lead to staying below 2 degrees. The world needs to have net-zero emissions much earlier or alternatively accommodate a growing share of negative emissions.

More important, what does this all mean politically?

I agree with those who cautiously welcome the G7 statement as a further blow to fossil fuel economies and carbon majors. Undisputedly this is the key message to financial markets and will encourage divestment from fossil fuels. Moreover, the proposed cut of GHG by 40 - 70% by 2050 is in the range of the IPCC 430 - 480 ppm scenarios. But an overall total decarbonisation only much later on - if that implies not before 2100 - does not lead in the long term to below 2 degrees, much less 1.5 degree C. And a phase-out of fossil fuels by 2100 is much too late and leads us on a pathway of at best below 3 degree. However, this is certainly not BAU and in case that would be a “global agreement” would reduce for the time being the threat of fully unabated climate change and a pathway to 4 or more degree C global warming. But it can be only a basis for further actions and is certainly not a ceiling.

The real litmus test for all G7, for their credibility, is the steps they take NOW in addition to their so far insufficient INDC: their commitment to phase out completely their own reliance on coal and their public funding for fossil fuels in the decades to come, to grow RES and energy efficiency significantly, to really support funding for poorer countries. It is up to them to lead on closing the gigaton gap we face presently until 2020 AND beyond. They have sharpened their rhetoric for a distant target, but they have not meaningfully addressed their immediate neighbourhood - which is enhanced action NOW.

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