Photo: Takver CC BY SA

Editorial: UN must increase its climate ambition

The globally averaged concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere reached the symbolic milestone of 400 parts per million for the first time in 2015 and surged again to new records in 2016. CO2 concentrations stayed above 400 ppm for the whole of 2016 and will not dip below that level for many generations according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). On 15 May 2017 the CO2 concentration had already reached 411 ppm.

CO2 accounts today for about 65 per cent of radiative forcing and is responsible for around 80 per cent of global warming since pre-industrial times. The WMO recently confirmed 2016 as the hottest year on record, about 1.1°C above the pre-industrial era.
In Paris 2015 the UN decided that the long-term target to avoid dangerous climate change is a 1.5°C increase in global temperature. This target is a result of scientific assessment by the IPCC and the first periodic climate science review by the UN, covering the period 2013–2015.

But the current global temperature increase of 1.1 degrees is already causing dangerous climate change for global ecosystems like coral reefs (see page 4) and food security in i.a. several African countries. CO2 emissions are already causing acidification of the oceans not seen for 300 million years (see front page ). New climate research suggests that the tipping point for destruction of several global ecosystems around sea-ice, glaciers, ice shields on Greenland and in Antarctica, in high mountain regions, parts of Africa and in the Amazon could lie at below 1.5°C global temperature rise, potentially causing very large losses of biodiversity and dangerous sea-level rise of several metres. Thirty per cent of ocean biodiversity is found in areas such as coral reef ecosystems. Studies estimate that up to 90 per cent of coral reefs will die at 1.5°C global temperature increase.

CO2 emissions, as well as all other greenhouse gases, must be reduced sharply so that global temperature rise can be kept below 1.5°C. Many countries, organisations and people all over the world have in the recent years called for a Global Marshall Plan for climate protection and actions. In 2009 the UN e.g. recommended a new Marshall Plan of more than $500 billion per year, or one per cent of global output, to help developing countries.
The Paris Agreement (PA) of December 2015 actually provides this Marshall Plan level of action. The PA must be implemented now!

All governments should adapt their economic and environmental protection programmes to the targets and actions agreed by 195 countries in Paris. Over the coming months the negotiations in the PA should lead to strict rules and implementation of all elements of the PA. It should not promote mechanisms and measures that allow countries to escape from their responsibilities based on equity and fair share. At the same time the UN should review announced national GHG reduction targets and increase ambition in the PA so that the national development plan commitments (NDCs) are in line with the reductions needed to reach the 1.5°C long-term target. Fossil fuel use must be phased out and a 100% renewable energy system must be built up globally. This also has co-benefits, such as reducing health problems caused by fossil fuel burning, and the protection of forests and biodiversity. An estimated 12.6 million people worldwide died as a result of living or working in an unhealthy environment in 2012 (WHO) and many heat-related illnesses could be avoided.

The first global stocktake of the PA will be in 2018; the second periodic science review of the Convention starts in 2019 and will be followed up by the next global stocktake of the PA in 2023 (see page 7). These six years are crucial for our chances of staying below a 1.5°C target over the next few centuries and making the PA an ambitious global climate action plan.

Reinhold Pape


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