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CLIMATE SCIENCE
UN climate chief urges 'bold' carbon-curbing steps
by Staff Writers
Berlin (AFP) April 13, 2014


Greenhouse gases: Factfile
Berlin (AFP) April 13, 2014 - Greenhouse gases are invisible, odourless emissions that linger in the atmosphere, trapping solar heat and warming Earth's surface.

They can affect climate physics -- the exchange of heat between the land, sea and air -- and disrupt weather patterns.

These emissions have always existed naturally, but man-made volumes, mainly from burning coal, oil and gas, are rising fast and disturbing the balance, raising fears of lasting damage to Earth's climate system.

The main greenhouse gases

- Carbon dioxide (CO2): 76 percent share of global emissions by volume in 2010

- Methane (CH4): 16 percent

- Nitrous oxide (N2): 6 percent

- Fluorinated gases -- hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6): 2 percent

Rising emissions

- Almost half of cumulative man-made CO2 emissions from the start of the Industrial Revolution in 1750 up to 2010 occurred in the last 40 years.

- Emissions from fossil fuel combustion, cement production and flaring from 1750 to 1970 were about 420 gigatonnes (Gt, or billion tonnes) of CO2; by 2010 the figure was 1,300 GtCO2.

- From 1970 to 2000, the rise in carbon emissions was 1.3 percent per year, surging to 2.2 percent per year on average between 2000 and 2010. Emissions in 2010 were the equivalent of 49 Gt of CO2.

- The global economic crisis of 2007/08 temporarily reduced emissions but did not halt the upward trend.

Main sectors

Contributions per sector to total greenhouse gas emissions in 2010:

Energy supply: 35 percent

Forestry and agriculture: 24 percent

Industry: 21 percent

Transport: 14 percent

Buildings: 6 percent

- Energy supply contributed 14.4 GtCO2 to emissions in 2010, a figure that is set to "double or almost triple" by 2050.

- Transport's 6.7 GtCO2 in 2010 is set to double over the same period.

- Buildings' contribution of 8.8 GtCO2 and industry's 13 GtCO2 could increase by 50-150 percent each.

Reaching the 2 C target

UN members have set a goal of limiting warming to 2.0 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial levels.

They have not set a deadline for achieving this, nor have they determined dates by when emissions should peak or how fast they should decline thereafter.

In 2011, the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases was 430 particles per million of CO2 equivalent (ppm CO2eq).

On current trends, levels could exceed 450 ppm CO2eq already by 2030 and reach 750-1,300ppm CO2eq by 2100 -- a recipe for 4C warming that many scientists say would have disastrous weather impacts.

These are the 2C scenarios sketched by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC):

- By 2100, atmospheric concentrations must be limited to about 450 ppm CO2eq for a "likely" chance (66 percent or more) of reaching the 2 C goal.

-- If concentrations are contained at about 500 ppm CO2eq by 2100, the probability is reduced to "more likely than not" (50 percent or more), or if they briefly exceed 530 ppm CO2eq before declining within the range "about as likely or not" (33-66 percent).

-- Levels over about 550 ppm CO2eq render the chances "more unlikely than likely." From 650 ppm CO2eq they become "unlikely".

SOURCES: IPCC Working Group III Summary for Policy Makers (SPM), US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

The UN climate chief on Sunday called on governments to take bold steps to tame carbon emissions after a landmark report said the worldwide aim to limit global warming was still attainable.

"The world can still combat climate change but only if nations raise their collective ambition to achieve a carbon-neutral world in the second half of the century," said Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

"We cannot play a waiting game where we bet on future technological miracles to emerge and save the day."

Figueres oversees UN negotiations towards a global pact on curbing climate-altering greenhouse-gas emissions that must be agreed in Paris late next year.

Its goal is to limit warming to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial levels, but progress has been hampered by bickering over how to divide up the bill.

The report, issued in Berlin by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said the challenge to curb warming to levels deemed relatively safe by scientists can still be met through a "large-scale" shift to greener energy.

There is a "likely" chance of meeting the target if the world cuts annual greenhouse gas emissions 40-70 percent by 2050 from 2010, it said.

It would also entail a "tripling to nearly a quadrupling" in the share of energy from renewable and nuclear sources and from traditional fossil or new biofuel sources whose emissions are captured and locked away.

But the document, a summary for policymakers that government representatives scrutinised line-by-line in Berlin over six days from Monday, also warned that on present trends the planet would be 3.7-4.8 C warmer by 2100 -- a level scientists say could be catastrophic.

"This new report challenges decision makers by presenting to them alternative futures and spelling out the pathway to each," said Figueres, in a statement issued by the UNFCCC secretariat in Bonn.

"We already have the finance and proven technologies needed to do what is required now. The challenge and the opportunity is to increase the speed and scale of action."

She called for "bold policy incentives" to reduce emissions, and constructive negotiations towards the 2015 climate pact.

And she urged governments "to step forward this year with generous capital contributions" to help developing nations switch to cleaner energy to fuel their rise out of poverty.

Points from UN report on carbon emissions
Berlin (AFP) April 13, 2014 - The main points from the IPCC report issued Sunday on options for mitigating carbon emissions:

Overall

- It is not too late to meet the UN's target of limiting average global warming to 2.0 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial levels.

- For a "likely" chance (at least 66-percent or more) of achieving this goal, the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere should not exceed about 450 ppm CO2eq by 2100.

- Delay beyond 2030 will reduce the chances of reaching this goal without harsher and probably more expensive mitigation measures in the latter half of the century.

- On current emission trends, the mean global surface temperature would be 3.7-4.8 degrees Celsius (6.7-8.4 degrees Fahrenheit) higher by 2100 than pre-Industrial Revolution levels.

Costs

- Achieving 450 ppm CO2eq by 2100 would put a brake of about 0.06 percentage points annually on growth in consumption, a measure of spending activity, which was otherwise projected to increase 1.6-3.0 percent per year over the century.

Energy revolution

Safely reaching the warming limit will require a massive switch in energy sources and use, which will in turn have an impact on business strategy.

For example, reaching about 450 ppm CO2eq by 2100 will likely require a cut in greenhouse gases of 40-70 percent from 2010-50.

Achieving this will entail a "tripling to nearly a quadrupling" over the same period in the share of energy from renewable and nuclear sources as well as traditional fossil and new biofuel sources with a mechanism for carbon capture and storage.

Several scenarios for 450 ppm CO2eq foresee emissions from the energy supply sector declining by 90 percent or more from 2010 levels between 2040 and 2070, and below zero thereafter.

For levels between 450 and 530 ppm CO2 by 2100, investment in alternative electricity sources must increase by $147 billion (106 billion euros) per year from 2010-2029, coupled to an annual investment decline of $30 billion in conventional fossil-fuel technology.

Energy efficiency investments in transport, buildings and industry must increase by about $336 billion per year.

In the short term, readily available natural gas is a cleaner option than coal, and renewable sources are the choices for the longer term.

The report also highlights carbon capture, which means sequestering CO2 emissions from fossil fuels at source, such as power plants, rather than spewing them into the atmosphere to add to the greenhouse effect. The technology for this exists but has only been used on small pilot scales.

Options for major sectors

Transport:

- Boost energy efficiency and vehicle performance

- Invest in low-carbon, mass-transport infrastructure

- Encourage pedestrian access and travel by bicycle

Construction

- Retrofit old buildings with low-energy technology

- Apply low-energy building codes to new projects

Industry

- Use energy more efficiently

- Reduce leaks of hydrofluorocarbons used in refrigeration and air conditioning, and recycle refrigerants

- Recycle and reuse waste

Agriculture and forestry

- Reduce the thinning of carbon-capturing forests and plant new ones

- Cut losses in the food supply chain

The report warns that biofuels may also compromise livelihoods and ecosystems, and may not contribute substantially to curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

Urban planning

- The global urban population is expected to almost double by 2050, and the expansion offers a "window of opportunity" for mitigating emissions. In addition to energy-efficient transport and buildings, planners should overlap work and living areas to avoid wasteful commuting.

Consumption

- Encourage a change in consumer behaviour and lifestyles to limit energy demand and use

- Switch to longer-lasting products and diets based on less energy-intensive food sources

- Reduce food and energy waste

SOURCE: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group III, Summary for Policy Makers.

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