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expert reaction to the 2017 UN Emissions Gap Report

The UN has published the 2017 Emissions Gap Report.

 

Prof. Myles Allen, Professor of Geosystem Science at the Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford, said:

“The Gap Report highlights the scale of the challenge, but also the opportunity. Crucially, it confirms it is not too late to maintain at least an even chance of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees by reducing emissions: ‘all’ we need to do is start emission reductions more-or-less immediately and reduce emissions to zero shortly after 2050.

“That is a formidable challenge, but crucially, it could be done: so the doomsayers who insist there is nothing for it but immediate solar geo-engineering are just plain wrong.”

 

Dr Grant Allen, Atmospheric physicist at the University of Manchester, said:

“This report shows that global emissions of manmade CO2 are severely veering off-track from the emissions reduction pathway we need to achieve in order to limit warming to 2 C as set by the Paris agreement. The 2 C limit was defined as the maximum increase in mean global temperature that could allow us to avoid the most catastrophic (and costly) impacts of climate change.

“This emissions gap is particularly problematic because warming is linked to cumulative emissions, which means the more we emit above this pathway now, the more severe emissions reductions will need to be in the future in order to limit total accumulated CO2 emissions below that which would cause 2 C of warming.

“Also, the role of positive feedbacks in the climate system is still not well understood – large natural stores of methane (the 2nd most important greenhouse gas) could be liberated into the atmosphere if warming continues unabated beyond 2 C, creating a vicious circle where nature takes over and we lose any ability to prevent future climate change by reducing manmade emissions further.

“The impacts of climate change are global – no country is immune from the economic and ecological fallout in the interconnected world we exist in. Governments must act urgently to monitor emissions and close the gap in the emissions reduction pathway if we are to have any hope of limiting warming to below 2 C.”

 

Prof. Piers Forster, Director of the Priestley International Centre for Climate at the University of Leeds, said:

“I was a reviewer of the report and I am completely on board with their conclusions that countries, sectors and cities have to innovate and reduce their emissions rapidly to avoid further climate change.

“The report makes 1.5C seem an impossible goal, but I believe there may be a little more room for manoeuvre.  For example, reducing methane emissions could give an almost instant cooling effect as methane is a very short-lived gas, and reducing CO2 emissions by a billion tonnes per year over the next 50 years would likely keep us below 1.5C.

“It’s an ambitious goal, but as the authors of the report correctly state, there is already lots of innovation towards a low-carbon society all over the world – so I remain optimistic.”

 

Prof. Dave Reay, Chair in Carbon Management at the University of Edinburgh, said:

“There’s clear alarm here, with a yawning gap between the emissions cuts promised so far and what is actually required. Yet it’s also clear how this gap can bridged. More renewables, energy efficiency, expansion of forests and better protection of existing carbon stores can together deliver the kind of cost-effective global effort that is needed. Under the Paris Agreement the nations of the world have a short-lived opportunity to really up their game on climate change, to act on the evidence and ensure that they give humankind the best change possible of avoiding dangerous climate change.”

 

Prof. Andrew Challinor, Professor of Climate Impacts at the University of Leeds, said:

“I’m optimistic. Basic measures across sectors would suffice to get us back on track – and the so-called “additional” measures include significant benefits from changing diets and decreasing food waste. This firmly puts consumers and food businesses at the heart of global efforts to curb emissions.”

 

Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science, said:

“This report confirms that the collective national cuts in emissions that have been pledged by governments are not sufficient to meet the Paris Agreement’s goal of avoiding dangerous climate change. The last time global mean surface temperature was 2 centigrade degrees higher than pre-industrial levels was about 125,000 years ago when the polar ice caps were much smaller and sea levels around the world were 5 to 10 metres higher than today. The average temperature has not been 3 centigrade degrees higher for millions of years, and is well outside the evolutionary experience of modern humans. It would likely transform the planet, and force the migration of hundreds of millions of people, with associated risks of extended conflict. No countries will be able to escape the impacts of dangerous climate change.

“Countries are aware that the revised pledges that they are due to submit in 2020, when the Paris Agreement takes effect, must have higher ambition and be consistent with the goal of avoiding dangerous climate change. Despite President Trump’s threat for the United States to leave the Paris Agreement, many States, cities and companies have publicly committed to its implementation. Significantly, the coal industry, a major source of greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, is unlikely to be revived in the United States because it is being displaced by cleaner and cheaper sources of energy.

“Many countries now recognise that the transition to a low-carbon economy will generate sustainable growth and development, with lower poverty and higher living standards. High-carbon economies look increasingly uncompetitive. However, much bigger investments are needed worldwide in technologies and infrastructure that are modern, efficient and clean.

“Even though all countries should be focused on emissions cuts, they should also be making themselves more resilient to those impacts of climate change that cannot now be avoided. In particular, the risks of extreme weather are increasing in many parts of the world. For instance, sea level rise is making storm surges more damaging. In the UK, the risk of heatwaves and flash flooding from heavy rainfall is on the rise. The eight hottest years and five of the six wettest years on record in the UK have all occurred from 2000 onwards. This year is heading to be one of the five warmest years on record for the UK.”

 

* The 2017 UN Emissions Gap Report will be published at 10.45am UK time on Tuesday 31 October, which is also when the embargo will lift. 

http://www.unep.org/emissionsgap/

 

Declared interests

Dr Allen: is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council to conduct measurements of greenhouse emissions.

None others received.

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