Urgent new action needed on climate – what can we learn from the Bonn climate summit?

The Bonn climate change conference came off to a subdued start on 6 November. Throughout the autumn, we have been hearing about increasingly powerful storms, massive biodiversity loss and the Arctic sea ice melting at an increasing rate. The World Meteorological Organization also announced that the globally averaged temperature has already risen by 1.1°C (https://public.wmo.int/en/media/press-release/2017-set-be-top-three-hottest-years-record-breaking-extreme-weather ), while concentrations of CO2 rose to their highest level in 800,000 years (https://public.wmo.int/en/media/press-release/greenhouse-gas-concentrations-surge-new-record ).

The rise in man-made greenhouse gas emissions may have been halted, but atmospheric CO2 levels continue to rise at a record-breaking rate. New analysis from NASA suggests that the rise is due to changes in the world’s tropical regions, where rising temperatures are driving higher rates of decomposition (https://climate.nasa.gov/news/2639/nasa-pinpoints-cause-of-earths-recent-record-carbon-dioxide-spike/), while in other areas drier conditions have resulted in a reduction in photosynthesis and an increase in forest fires. As a result of these factors, the world’s tropical regions released 50% more carbon into the atmosphere (i.e. 2.5 gigatons = + 50% in annual emissions), than in the reference year (2011).

The carbon dioxide spike recorded in 2016 is the largest annual increase in at least 2,000 years. Once they pass a tipping point, the climate phenomena discussed above will be occurring on such an immense scale that human activity will no longer be sufficient to control them. As we approach, and particularly if we were to exceed, the +2°C limit, other similar climate change events will also start to occur.

According to the Emission Gap 2017 report, we will need to at least triple our efforts to reduce carbon emissions by 2030 if we are to meet the goals set out in the Paris agreement. (https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/22070/EGR_2017.pdf). In addition to the binding targets already announced, we need a further annual CO2 reduction of 13.5 gigatons if we are to limit the rise in global temperatures to 2°C and a reduction of as much as 19 gigatons if rises are to remain under 1.5°C. Of the Paris agreement signatories, only Morocco has committed to plans that will keep warming to below 1.5°C, with five further countries’ pledgees matching the 2°C target (http://climateactiontracker.org/countries.html).

According to Climate Action Tracker, the European Union must also introduce new and tougher targets and redouble its efforts in this area. (http://climateactiontracker.org/countries/eu.html).

Fresh action is required in the energy, manufacturing, transport and food supply sectors. All countries will need to rapidly initiate extensive new reforestation programmes that will allow carbon capture by trees and vegetation. Once the forests have matured and are economically viable, they will provide raw material to replace both fossil raw materials and energy.

Since 1990, 129 million hectares of forest have been lost around the world, equivalent to an area the size of South Africa. If we were to compensate for this loss by planting 19 billion trees annually, at 1,500 trees per hectare of land, the annual cost would be around USD 38–57 billion. If this cost was to be split between the 750 million people that make up the world’s wealthiest 10 per cent, the cost to them would be roughly USD 50–75 per annum or USD 4–6 per month.

We need to do more to utilise the market power of ordinary citizens. If the wealthiest 10%, responsible for approximately half of all global CO2 emissions, were to halve their carbon footprint by 2030 that would reduce our total emissions by 12.5 gigatons. This alone would be sufficient to meet the 2°C target.

As it happens, the Finnish Climate Pledge initiative is committed to achieving precisely this sort of reduction. The campaign received significant publicity last week when the UNFCCC secretariat called on all COP23 Bonn summit participants to offset the carbon emissions from their travel to the summit and to consider signing the Climate Pledge ((http://climateactiontracker.org/countries/eu.html).

I will be posting more views, news and links as the summit progresses,

Jouni Keronen, Executive Director, Climate Leadership Coalition

  • 9 Nov, 2017
  • Unna Lehtipuu
  • Bonn Climate Climate Change Concerence,

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