Is the International Target of 2 Degrees Warming a "Pipe Dream?"

Thomas Schueneman

An Australian researchers sees the nonbinding agreement among industrialized nations to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius as a "pipe dream" given their modest commitment to mid-term emissions reductions.

Last month at the meeting of the Major Economies Forum at La Maddalena, Italy, the United States and other industrialized nations set a nonbinding target to limit global temperature increase caused by human-caused activities to within 2 degrees Celsius.

Are emissions targets unrealistic to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius?

The Sydney Morning Herald reported late last week that research by Australian National University scientist Andrew Macintosh indicates that, based on most industrialized nations' stated mid-term commitments, limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius simply "won't work."

Most major emitters have pledged an emissions reduction target of between 10 and 20% by 2020, leading to an 80% cut by 2050. And the near term target is "simply not enough," says Macintosh, "if you want to prevent warming of more than 2 degrees."

It's simply not enough if you want to prevent warming of more than 2 degrees," Macintosh told the Australian Associated Press. "They know this. But what they're trying to tell everybody is no, it's fine, we can go for moderate cuts by 2020 and still stay within the limit. Even if a 20 per cent cut was achieved by 2020, emissions would have to fall by an additional 5 per cent a year in order to reach the next target. That's just extremely unrealistic [unless] we find some magic technology."

Characterizing a scenario of moderate mid-term emissions targets making the 2 degree limit achievable as a "pipe dream." Macintosh says governments are playing "both sides of the fence" in an attempt to "placate everyone."

Over a period of several months, Macintosh ran computer models for 45 differant climate change scenarios. His research suggests that the international community needs to either accept that the 2 degree Celsius limit will not be achievable or more drastic near and mid-term emissions cuts, on the order of at least 30% by 2020, will be required.

This report lends itself to our recentposts on the need for the international community to focus more on sustainable agriculture and forestry, especially this December at the COP15 climate conference in Copenhagen where world leaders will hammer out a post-Kyoto climate agreement. Focusing soley on emissions reductions is not enough.

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