Time is running out for action on climate change, scientists warn global leaders

22nd September 2014

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Dominic Pybus

The world will soon pass the point at which it is possible to limit climate change to within a 2ºC rise in temperatures, according to international climate experts ahead of the New York climate summit.

A report by the Global Carbon Project (GCP), an international collaboration of researchers which includes scientists from the University of East Anglia (UEA) and the University of Exeter, estimates that total future CO2 emissions cannot exceed 1,200 billion tonnes in order to keep global temperature rise within 2°C, which scientists have agreed is a “safe” level.

If emissions continue at the current rate, this remaining “quota” of CO2 emissions may be used up in one generation, the scientists have calculated.

But this estimation does not take continuing increases in emissions into account, with a further 2.5% rise predicted for 2014.

More than half of all fossil fuel reserves may need to be left untapped, the GCP concluded.

Professor Pierre Friedlingstein from the University of Exeter said: “The time for a quiet evolution in our attitudes towards climate change is now over.”

Emissions in the UK decreased by 2.5% in 2013 due to a decline in the use of coal and gas, the report states.

However, the UK exports a third of its emissions by consuming goods and services that are produced elsewhere, it says.

China’s CO2 emissions per person overtook emissions in the EU for the first time in 2013 and are now larger than from the US and EU combined. However, 16% of China’s emissions are for goods and services that are exported elsewhere.

China’s CO2 emissions grew by 4.2% in 2013; while those in the US and India increased by 2.9% and 5.1% respectively.

EU emissions fell last year by 1.8%, though it exports a third of its emissions to China and other manufacturing nations through imported goods and services.

Annual global emissions must reduce by more than 5% over several decades to keep climate change below 2°C, the GCP warned.

Professor Corinne Le Quéré, director of the Tyndall Centre at UEA, said: “We are nowhere near the commitments necessary to stay below 2°C of climate change, a level that will be already challenging to manage for most countries around the world, even for rich nations.

“Politicians meeting in New York need to think very carefully about their diminishing choices exposed by climate science,” she said.

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