As the nations of the world struggle in Doha to agree even modest targets to tackle global warming, the cuts needed in rising greenhouse gas emissions grow ever deeper, more costly and less likely to be achieved.
UN talks have delivered only small emissions curbs in 20 years, even as power stations, cars and factories pump out more and more heat-trapping gases.
An overriding long-term goal set by all nations two years ago to keep temperature rises to less than 2°C above levels prior to the Industrial Revolution is fast slipping away.
“The possibility of keeping warming to below 2°C has almost vanished,” Pep Canadell, head of the Global Carbon Project at Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organization, said.
Disagreements mean the UN climate talks in Doha, Qatar, that run until December 7 have scant chance of making meaningful progress. The talks are aimed at reaching a new deal to start by 2020 to slow climate change in the form of more floods, droughts, rising sea levels and severe storms like Hurricane Sandy that lashed the US Northeast last month.
Global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas, have risen 50% since 1990 and the pace of growth has picked up since 2000, Canadell said. In the past decade, emissions have grown about 3% a year despite an economic slowdown, up from 1% during the 1990s.
Based on current emissions growth and rapid industrial expansion in developing nations, emissions are expected to keep growing by about 3% a year over the next decade.
For the talks to have any chance of success in the long run, emissions must quickly stop rising and then begin to fall. Temperatures have already risen by 0.8°C since pre-industrial times. “The alarm bells are going off all over the place. There’s a disconnect between the outside world and the lack of urgency in these halls,” Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists said at the Doha talks.
Nearly 1,200 coal-fired power plants, among the biggest emitters, are proposed around the globe, with three-quarters of them planned for China and India, a study by the Washington-based World Resources Institute think-tank said last week.
Emissions from China, the world’s top carbon polluter, are growing 8-9% a year and are now about 50% higher than those of the United States. And China’s carbon emissions are not expected to peak until 2030.