United Nations Environment Programme Launches Emissions Gap Report

Tina Gerhardt Dec 9, 2010

Cancún, Mexico – Yesterday afternoon, United Nations Environment Programme released the Emissions Gap Report, which seeks to assess how we are doing after Copenhagen, given the commitments made through the Copenhagen Accord.

The Emissions Gap Report is based on modeling and scientific analysis from 25 climate modeling centers worldwide. Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the UNEP and UN Under Secretary, said, “scientific institutions worldwide produce analyses. From time to time, different models need to be brought together.”

Juan Rafael Elvira, Mexican Secretary of the Environment, predicts that this will be one of the most influential reports since the 4th assessment of the IPCC.

It takes the benchmarks that have been used since Copenhagen, that is, a 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) maximum temperature increase above pre-industrial (1990) levels.

And the pledges associated with the Copenhagen Accord of 2009 form the point of departure for this report. Given these pledges, the report asks: what remains to be done? What is the gap between scientific reality and the current level of ambition of nations?

That’s good news? The report found that if the voluntary commitments were to be implemented, then we would be sixty percent on the path to where we need to be by 2020, if we want to avert climate change.

The bad news? That leaves forty percent of the requisite commitments are still missing.

Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the UNEP and UN Under Secretary, stated that “for the UNEP, this program also marks an attempt to present to the public what we are trying to deal with. Addressing climate change is not about stopping something only, it is also about doing things differently. And with this report, we hope to show the public that we can do something differently.”

Doing things differently or reducing emissions would be welcome by number nations worldwide who are already suffering the consequences of climate change.

Dessima Williams, head of the Alliance of Small Island Stats (AOSIS) – whose colleague warned that the low-lying islands are “facing the end of history. And if that happens, we are all accomplices” – thanked the UNEP for producing this report, stating “It brings together the most vulnerable nations around the world, which are threatened for their very survival.”

“Two years ago,” she said, “at the COP 14, AOSIS demanded that a goal be set for 1.5 degrees maximum. A coalition of 106 countries at the UNFCCC has embraced this goal. So these countries are not working with a 2.0 degrees but a 1.5 degrees goal. The UNEP for the first time provides a balanced assessment of that goal. It shows that it is feasible. It does not say that but it shows it.”

“According to the report a large emissions gap exists, Williams continued, “Emissions have to be much lower, if we are to achieve that goal. The foundation for such reductions must be laid here in Cancún. and not just in litigation. Even with 1.5 degrees temperature increase, there will be much damage and loss. That is why we need to establish a loss and damage here in Cancún. Global scientific understanding is essential to helping us to understand and to adapt to climate change. In closing, let me thank the UNEP and reiterate how critical this work is in saving low-lying island nations.”

Chris Huhne, UK Environment Minister, concurred, stating “Let me start by saying that we should do these kind of studies regularly. We cannot go on ignoring this vital fact, which is already affecting people around the world. We are witnessing ever more regular and devastating climate change with the forest fires in Russia, the, floods in Pakistan, mudslides in China. We can say that the pattern and frequency of these events is itself a pattern.”

“I think we need to produce these kinds of reports on a regular basis. I find it to be a huge problem that we have two reports annually about the state of our economy but we do not have an annual report, assessing the state of our economy.”

“There is no question in the science,” stated Huhne “that the increase in the CO2 leads to an increase in temperature.” What we are trying to provide the best possible assessment. What we are trying to provide the best possible data. Nobody has perfect data. The probability is such that we have a 90% chance. If somebody told us that we had a 90% chance our house burning down, and we didn’t buy any insurance and our house burned down, I think we’d be really, really mad. And I think that’s how we have to think of climate change.”

Tina Gerhardt is an independent journalist and academic, who has covered international climate change negotiations, most recently in Copenhagen and Bonn. Her work has appeared in Alternet, Grist, In These Times and The Nation.

This article was originally published on The Huffington Post.

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