January 26, 2009

Fast Action Needed To Meet Key Climate Change Threshold

A new report released Monday finds that global temperature increases driven by climate change could be kept within the crucial 2-degree threshold if the world acts quickly to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 70 percent by 2030.

Temperature increases beyond the 2-degree threshold would threaten severe environmental consequences, such as rising sea levels and the melting of polar ice caps, scientists say.

However, governments and scientists are growing increasingly concerned about whether such a goal is achievable in light of the slow progress in reaching a global consensus on the issue of curbing emissions.

But the report, authored by consultancy McKinsey and supported by ten organizations including energy firms Royal Dutch Shell, Enel and Vattenfall, says it is not too late to avoid dangerous climate change.

"Achieving the deep emissions cuts required to keep global warming below the 2 degrees limit is possible but difficult," wrote McKinsey director Tomas Naucler.

The report said a worldwide investment of $686 billion would be required by 2020, and $1,065 billion by 2030, to reach the goal.  Nations could offset much of the costs by reducing their costs for coal, oil and gas, the report said, resulting in a net cost of less than 1 percent of GDP.

The report, which comes just one month after the European Union agreed to aggressive moves to reduce carbon dioxide, coincides with renewed optimism that U.S. President Barack Obama will support such initiatives after having promised to curb emissions at home.

Indeed, President Obama will begin on Monday reversing some of the climate policies of former President George W. Bush, taking steps to increase fuel efficiency standards and granting states authority to limit vehicle emissions.

The report said that managing global climate change will require bold and rapid action.  For instance, a 70 percent emissions reduction by 2030 would cap greenhouse gas emissions at 480 parts per million (ppm), about the level scientists believe would cause a 2 degree rise.  However, waiting another 10 years would make it a challenge to keep emissions below 550 parts per million (ppm).

"Every year of delay adds to the challenge, not only because emissions will continue to grow during that year, but also because it will lock the economy into high-carbon infrastructure," said the report.