Next Steps in Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions, a Global Overview

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1 Next Steps in Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions, a Global Overview Richard Burke, CEP, Office Practice Leader, TRC Environmental, Inc., 707 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 3250, Los Angeles CA 90017, tel: Summary This paper summarizes the current status of current and projected global greenhouse gas emissions, as well as the changes in emissions that would be needed to limit global average temperature increases to less than 2 C, as determined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The paper outlines the steps being taken to begin to craft a legally binding agreement to present to the 21 st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change being held in Paris, France November 30 through December 11, The paper also briefly lists measures that environmental professionals can employ to help achieve the aims of this intended agreement. Background Established in 1988 by United Nations Environment Programme World Meteorological Organization, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was created to identify the scientific view on the state of knowledge in climate change, the potential environmental and socio-economic impacts of this change, and possible adaptation and mitigation response strategies that could be applied to minimize these impacts. In this case, adaptation refers to actions that could reduce the risk of adverse consequences to the human and natural environment from a given level of climate change. Mitigation refers to efforts to either reduce emissions of greenhouse gasses that are contributing to this change, to increase capture of carbon once it has entered the atmosphere, or to reduce the deforestation and other land use changes that reduce the planet s ability to capture and store greenhouse gasses. To address the issue, the IPPC created an organizational Impact Assessment Structure that involves three working groups (IPCC, 2014). Working Group I addresses the scientific aspects of the climate system and assesses the likely changes expected from various potential future emissions scenarios, which it terms Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs). These pathways represent four different 21st century combinations of greenhouse gas emissions and atmospheric concentrations, air pollutant emissions, and land-use. The RCPs include a stringent mitigation scenario (RCP2.6), two intermediate scenarios (RCP4.5 and RCP6.0), and one scenario with very high greenhouse gas emissions (RCP8.5). Scenarios without additional efforts to constrain emissions (baseline scenarios) lead to pathways ranging between RCP6.0 and RCP8.5. RCP2.6 is representative of a scenario that aims to keep global warming likely below 2 C above preindustrial temperatures. Working Group II addresses potential consequences of the predicted effects on human, natural, and ecological systems, and develops options for adapting to these consequences in a manner that would reduce adverse risk. Working Group III addresses the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions, that is, various institutional, 1 Richard Burke, TRC

2 legal, political, and technological approaches to reducing sources of emissions. These working groups do not conduct original research. Rather, each working group gathers information on the thousands of scientific studies being conducted around the world in their respective topic areas and then compiles a report that summarizes the information so obtained. The results of the three working groups are combined in summary form in IPCC s Synthesis Impact Assessment Reports. IPPC s First Assessment Report was issued in It formed the basis for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the political or national action arm of the UN effort to address climate change. Over 190 countries are a part of this convention. The Conference of the Parties to this convention meets periodically to take decisions, and is influenced to a great degree by the information provided by the IPCC s Assessment Reports. For example, the Second Assessment Report issued in 1995 was the basis for the Kyoto Protocol adopted by the UNFCCC in Kyoto, Japan, on 11 December The detailed rules for the implementation of the Protocol were adopted at the seventh meeting of the Conference of the Parties in Marrakesh, Morocco, in The IPCC s Third Assessment Report, issues in 2001, provided improved modeling and options analyses compared to previous reports. The IPCC s Fourth Assessment Report, issues in 2007 was the basis for the Copenhagen Accord, which identified economy-wide emissions targets by 2020 and nationally appropriate mitigation actions for developing country Parties. Subsequently, in 2010 in Cancun, parties agreed to set an aspirational goal of limiting global warming to 2 C. The UNFCCC s Fifth Assessment Report included the following contributing reports: WG I - Climate Change 2013: the Physical Science Basis (1/30/14) WG II - Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, Vulnerability (3/31/14) WG III Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change (4/12/14) 2014 Synthesis Report (11/1/14) The information from the latter report (IPCC, 2014) provides the basis for much of the information provided below. Existing and Projected Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions Estimates As depicted in Figure 1, the 2014 Synthesis Report shows that global CO2 emissions are currently increasing at a rate exceeding two percent per year. Current emissions are about 50 gigatons per year. Since CO2 is long lasting in the atmosphere, to meet the goal of limiting total human-induced global warming to less than 2 C relative to levels with a probability of two thirds or greater, the report indicates that cumulative CO2 emissions from all anthropogenic sources since 1870 need to be capped at 2900 gigatons. As of 2011, about 1900 gigatons has already been emitted, so at the current rate, this limit will be reached in 20 years. Since emissions are increasing each year, this limit is actually likely to be reached in even less time. To maintain emissions under this limit until 2100, over the next 85 years, CO2 emissions need to be cut to about half of all such emissions emitted over the past 145 years. 2 Richard Burke, TRC

3 Figure 1 Source: IPCC, 2014 Steps are being taken by the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties to forge an agreement to achieve this goal. In the UNFCC s 20th Session in Lima, Peru, on December 14, 2014, over 190 nations agreed on what the major components of such a climate change deal should include. The parties also began to review emissions targets being offered by some nations, including the United States, through a process called Multilateral Assessments. The parties agreed to prepare Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, i.e., the amount of greenhouse gas emissions to which a nation would agree to limit itself, by March 31, The convention noted that there were a number of methods by which a nation could define its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions: An absolute, economy-wide emissions target, which defines by when a country will emit not more than a certain amount of GHG emissions. These mitigation goals are easiest to aggregate internationally. A deviation from a Business as Usual scenario, which defines by how much, and by when, a country will undercut a scenario of emissions growth projected into the future based on projections of economic activity and emissions. With this approach, it is more difficult to aggregate future emissions reductions. An intensity target which defines target GHG emissions per unit of economic growth or person. This requires transparent methodologies and depends on actual economic growth, making an international aggregation of emissions reductions difficult. 3 Richard Burke, TRC

4 A set of policies and actions which measure and quantify emissions reduction impacts. This approach is often methodologically difficult and therefore requires particularly transparent guidelines to project and quantify future reductions. The primary way to achieve stated GHG emission reduction objectives is to convert energy use from carbon-emitting sources to non-carbon emitting sources. Figure 2 shows the drastic changes that would be required, and how even more drastic measures need to be taken after 2030 if strong measures are not adopted before then. The panel on the left of the figure shows two different levels of GHG emissions that may occur in 2030, depending upon political action. The darker green scenarios would occur if pledges adopted at the Cancun were implemented. The light green range of scenarios would occur if they were not implemented. The middle panel then shows the annual percentage reduction in emissions that would be needed between 2030 and 2050 to achieve the 2 C goal. If the Cancun pledges are implemented, this panel shows that a 3 percent annual reduction is needed each of those 20 years to meet the goal. If they are not implemented, a 6 percent annual reduction would be required. The panel on the right shows the corresponding magnitude of zero and low-carbon energy supply up-scaling that would be needed from 2030 to 2050 for the two different before 2030 scenarios. With either scenario, the chart shows that global non-carbon energy use needs to exceed 50 percent by 2050 and 90 percent by However, a much greater percentage change to non-carbon energy sources will need to occur before 2050 if the Cancun agreements are not implemented if the 2 C goal is to be met. The process of reaching a negotiated agreement will be difficult. A meeting in February, 2015 is being held to initially collect text being offered by negotiating parties (UNFCC 2015). The draft text of an agreement is scheduled to be issued by May, The development of a global binding agreement is scheduled during the Conference of Parties 21st Session in Paris, France, from November 30 through December 11, GHG Reduction Responsibilities A major difficulty facing the negotiations will be to assign different emission reduction targets in part on the basis of the different responsibilities each nation has as a result of its past actions and current conditions. The concept of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities, defined in Article 3(1) of the UNFCCC, provides that the parties should protect the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations of humankind, on the basis of equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capacities. Accordingly, the developed country parties should take the lead in combating climate change and the adverse effects thereof. The degree to which the developed countries, such as the US, will follow this principle, remains to be seen. Table 1 shows that six countries produce nearly 60 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. China and the United States combine for more than two-fifths. The US per capita emissions are double those of China and European countries. 4 Richard Burke, TRC

5 Figure 2 Reference: (IPCC), 2014 Table 1 - Total and Per Capita CO2 Emissions by Country in 2013 Country CO2 Emissions (bil. tons/yr) Population (bil.) Tons per Capita China United States India Russia Japan Source: Olivier, Richard Burke, TRC

6 What Can Environmental Professionals Do? Recognizing the significant adverse environmental effects that carbon-based sources of energy, deforestation, and other land use activities have on emissions of greenhouse gases, environmental professionals can recommend a number of mitigation measures and other improvements to projects in which they are involved. For example, environmental professionals can mitigate carbon-emitting sources of energy by requiring conversion of these sources to hydropower, wind, solar, geothermal, wave, tidal, and other renewable energy, and nuclear energy sources. Carbon dioxide capture and storage technologies are readily available for major stationary sources. Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage is also an effective reduction method. Planting trees is a natural method offset emissions on many projects. Burying charcoal and other Negative Emission Technologies are also worth considering (Caldecott, et. al, 2015). Environmental professionals can also achieve GHG goals by reducing energy use, for example by requiring buildings and equipment to be constructed using low-carbon life cycle emission materials, to have Green Building or LEED certification, to have a high EPA Energy Star rating, to have on-site renewable energy systems, to be oriented to take advantage of solar insolation, and to be insulated to standards that exceed local requirements. Environmental professionals also have a long list of potentially fuel saving technologies and designs that would reduce energy consumption by vehicles, including recommendations for in-fill development, transit oriented and pedestrian and bicycle-friendly designs, and other operational steps that would reduce carbon use. Detailed examples of such steps are addressed elsewhere in these proceedings. References Ben Caldecott, Guy Lomax, and Mark Workman, Stranded Carbon Assets and Negative Emissions Technologies, Working Paper, Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment. February. F Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Climate Change 2014 Synthesis Report Summary for Policymakers, edited by Rajendra K. Pachauri, et.al., and Leo Meyer, November 1. Olivier, J.G.J., Janssens-Maenhout, G., Muntean, M. Peters, J.H.A.W., Trends in global CO2 emissions report, JRC report / PBL report 1490; ISBN December United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), Report of the Conference of the Parties on its twentieth session, held in Lima from 1 to 14 December 2014 (English). FCCC/CP/2014/10. February 2. 6 Richard Burke, TRC

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