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Aug. 26 — At United Nations negotiations set for next year, countries are unlikely to produce a global accord strong enough to meet common goals for addressing climate change, two recent studies conclude.
Little political appetite exists for the necessary actions to achieve the goal of holding temperature increases since industrialization began to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), and those actions with political support aren't adequate to meet that target, Norwegian researchers from the Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research found this month. The researchers concluded the world is further away from an effective global treaty today than when the Kyoto Protocol was adopted.
In a separate study this month from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, researchers found the climate agreement likely would result in emissions reductions but would fail to limit the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to below 450 parts per million. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change identified 450 ppm as the level necessary for a 50 percent chance of holding temperatures to a 2-degree-Celsius increase above pre-industrial levels.
Negotiators from the world's top emitters hope to reach a global accord in late 2015 that will require action from developing nations to address climate change in addition to the actions of developed countries. That accord would be finalized at the 21st Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC in Paris and would go into effect beginning in 2020.
Jon Hovi, lead researcher on the project and professor at the University of Oslo and Cicero, said an effective agreement would cover all major greenhouse gas-emitting nations, require substantial reductions from all nations and contain mechanisms to ensure countries meet their commitments. Based on those necessary elements, the Norwegian study found “little basis for optimism” that the 2015 agreement would substantially achieve goals on climate change.
According to the researchers, one of the biggest problems that needs to be addressed is how to eliminate free rider nations—those that enjoy the benefits of emission cuts made by others while ignoring their own commitments.
They propose a system based on deposits. Under their proposal, nations would place a significant amount of funding into a deposit at ratification of the treaty that would then be administered by an international secretariat. Those nations that meet their commitments would get a full refund of their contributions while those that do not would lose theirs.
Key differences of opinion toward strong enforcement systems, most notably between China and the U.S., means they are not likely to be included as part of the final agreement, the researchers conclude.
“In order to succeed in crafting an effective international climate agreement, we must eliminate free riding,” Hovi said in a statement. “Each and every country must be certain that the other countries are also doing their part. It's the only viable option.”
In the other study, researchers assumed the Paris agreement would rely on voluntary agreements rather than legally binding mechanisms. They said the research “widely consulted” those involved with the 2015 negotiations and then used a sophisticated computer model to evaluate the likely outcomes from the negotiations.
“Our analysis concludes that these international efforts will indeed bend the curve of global emissions,” the report concludes. “However, our results also show that these efforts will not put the globe on a path consistent with commonly stated long-term climate goals.”
The study hopes to spur additional thought and consideration of how an aggressive treaty might be accomplished given “global emissions as far out as 2045 or 2050 will be heavily influenced by achievements in the negotiations over the next 18 months,” according to the study.
Carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere could continue to rise to between 530 and 580 ppm by the end of the century if only voluntary emissions reduction pledges are incorporated into the final deal. Nevertheless, the researchers conclude, nations appear disinclined to make the kinds of pledges that would restrict the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere adequately.
President Barack Obama plans to attend the UN global leader climate summit in September in hopes boosting momentum for a 2015 international agreement.
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An English summary of the Norweigan study is available at http://bit.ly/1t9Ryi5.
The MIT study, Expectations for a New Climate Agreement, is available at http://globalchange.mit.edu/files/document/MITJPSPGC_Rpt264.pdf.
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