Nicholas Stern calls for countries to raise ambition of intended emissions reductions to narrow gap with pathway for 2 degree limit

Countries should seek ways to increase the ambition of their national pledges for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, both before and after the crucial United Nations climate change summit in Paris in December, according to a paper published today (4 May 2015) by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and the ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy at London School of Economics and Political Science.

The call for greater action is based on an analysis by Rodney Boyd, Nicholas Stern and Bob Ward which shows that the emissions in 2030 that have already been signalled by some of the largest-emitting countries, along with assumptions about current and planned policies by other countries, mean that it is unlikely that the aggregate pledges made by all countries ahead of the Paris summit will collectively be consistent with the goal of limiting the rise in global average temperature to no more than 2°C.

Depending on what assumptions are made about when China’s annual emissions of greenhouse gases will reach their peak, the European Union, United States and China are calculated together to be likely to emit between 20.9 and 22.3 billion tonnes of carbon-dioxide-equivalent in 2030.

Recent estimates by the United Nations Environment Programme indicate that pathways that are consistent with a 50-66% chance of limiting global warming to less than 2°C, without depending on negative emissions technology, have annual emissions of between 32 and 44 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent in 2030.

This means either that the pledges put forward by the rest of the world (i.e. not including the European Union, United States and China) could not exceed emissions of about 23 billion tonnes in 2030, or that the collective emissions of the European Union, United States and China would have to be substantially lower than currently indicated. However, current and planned policies suggest that emissions by the rest of the world could be about 35 billion tonnes. It seems unlikely that the pledges from all countries before the Paris summit will collectively be sufficient to bridge the gap to an emissions pathway that is consistent with the limit of 2°C.

The paper states: “We think that it is important to offer a preliminary analysis of how the pledges and announcements by some of the biggest emitters, together with assumptions about current and planned policies by other countries, compare against pathways for staying within the global warming limit of 2°C. This allows us to confirm that there is a gap between the emissions pathway that would result from current ambitions and plans, and a pathway that is consistent with the global warming limit of 2°C. Consequently, countries should be considering opportunities to narrow the gap before and after the Paris summit.”

The paper concludes: “The ambitions and plans agreed at the Paris summit in December 2015 should be regarded as a critical initial step. It is also important that countries make pledges that are credible. However, the magnitude of the gap between current intentions and the international target of limiting global warming to no more than 2°C clearly shows that an international agreement in Paris will have to include dynamic mechanisms for the assessment of progress and the raising of ambitions. Hence the Paris summit should not be regarded as just a one-off opportunity to fix targets.”

The authors suggest that countries should focus on four key ways to increase the ambitions of emissions cuts both before and after the Paris summit.

First, hard work over the next few months by all countries to find credible ways of achieving bigger emissions reductions which can be included in pledges to be submitted before the Paris summit, or achieved through additional efforts by partnerships, for example, through specific decarbonisation initiatives among willing countries.

Second, an intensification of efforts to increase investment and innovation, particularly in relation to the development of cities, energy systems and land use, that could help to close the gap between intentions and the goal before and after 2030.

Third, the creation of a mechanism, to be included in the agreement emerging from the Paris summit in December 2015, for countries to review their efforts and to find ways of ramping up the ambition of their emissions reductions by 2030 and beyond.

Fourth, concerted efforts by all countries to build the strong and transparent domestic base necessary for the implementation of their pledges, and so setting them on a path to decarbonisation and enabling them to ramp up their ambitions.

Download paper: What will global annual emissions of greenhouse gases be in 2030, and will they be consistent with avoiding global warming of more than 2°C?

NOTES FOR EDITORS

  1. Lord Stern is chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and the ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy, as well as I.G. Patel Professor of Economics and Government, at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Since July 2013, Lord Stern has been President of the British Academy for the humanities and social sciences. Lord Stern was with HM Treasury between October 2003 and May 2007. He served as Second Permanent Secretary and Head of the Government Economic Service, head of the review of the economics of climate change (the results of which were published in ‘The Economics of Climate Change: The Stern Review’ in October 2006), and director of policy and research for the Commission for Africa. His previous posts included Senior Vice-President and Chief Economist at the World Bank, and Chief Economist and Special Counsellor to the President at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Baron Stern of Brentford was introduced in December 2007 to the House of Lords, where he sits on the independent cross-benches. He was recommended as a non-party-political life peer by the UK House of Lords Appointments Commission in October 2007.
  2. The ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy (http://www.cccep.ac.uk/) is hosted by the University of Leeds and the London School of Economics and Political Science. It is funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council (http://www.esrc.ac.uk/). The Centre’s mission is to advance public and private action on climate change through rigorous, innovative research.
  3. The Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment (http://www.lse.ac.uk/grantham) was launched at the London School of Economics and Political Science in October 2008. It is funded by The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment (http://www.granthamfoundation.org/).