- Adam Morton
- Record low Murray flows turning Lake Albert acidic
- Scientists warn of gaps in ice monitoring
- Journey to a hostile climate
WEALTHY countries' targets to cut greenhouse emissions fall well short of what is needed to avoid catastrophic climate change, according to a confidential United Nations analysis.
The informal note by the UN climate change secretariat dated June 6 estimates current pledges add up to a total emissions cut by the rich of between 16 and 24 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020.
Conservative estimates suggest rich countries must make a cut of 25-40 per cent to give the world a chance of avoiding a 2 degree temperature rise — seen as the trigger for climatic changes leading to widespread water shortages, displacement of people, species extinction and the loss of landmarks such as the Great Barrier Reef.
Analysts say the targets on the table would trigger conditions set by the Australia Government for it to sign up to a 15 per cent cut below 2000 levels.
But the current commitment by developing nations is weaker than the UN note suggests, as it does not include target proposals by the US and Japan, the world's second and sixth biggest emitters.
A separate breakdown published online by the journal Nature this week that included Japan and the US calculates rich nations are on a path to cut industrial emissions by 8-14 per cent.
Once China and India were factored in, the analysis by scientists from Germany's Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research found global emissions were on track to be at least 32 per cent higher in 2020 than 2000.
"National targets give virtually no chance of constraining warming to 2 degrees Celsius and no chance of protecting coral reefs," it says.
Melbourne University climatologist David Karoly, a lead author with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said current targets were a positive step, but not enough to avoid worsening heatwaves, droughts and damage to ecosystems.
"What doesn't seem to be appreciated is that the longer we wait, the more greenhouse gases are emitted and the more has to be removed from the atmosphere to stabilise carbon dioxide at 450 parts per million (the level needed to give a chance of avoiding a 2-degree increase)," Professor Karoly said. "We're already at 460 parts per million or higher."
John Connor, chief executive of the Climate Institute, said Australia needed to show "tough love" to those not pulling their weight in a bid to achieve a strong climate treaty in Copenhagen in December. "It is time for us to start muscling up."
Japan this week announced a 2020 target that translates to an 8 per cent cut below 1990 levels. The US Congress will soon consider a bill that would cut its emissions by about 4 per cent, not counting credits for preventing deforestation.
The UN analysis was requested by national governments to gauge the state of negotiations on a new treaty. The last round of bureaucratic-level talks were due to finish in Germany overnight.
Developing nations have recently upped their demands of the rich, which are responsible for about three quarters of historic industrial emissions. China is calling on the wealthy to cut emissions by 40 per cent.
In Australia, there is bipartisan support for a target range of 5-25 per cent below 2000 levels, but not the mechanism to reach it. The Government's emissions trading scheme faces likely defeat in the Senate this month.