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Australia's Stern review warns of runaway global warming Share on Facebook
Carbon emissions are rising so fast that the world has no chance of hitting climate targets, says Australian economist

by UK Guardian - David Adam - Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Carbon pollution levels are rising so fast that the world has no realistic chance of hitting ambitious climate targets set by Britain and the G8, an influential report to the Australian government has warned.

The report, from economist Ross Garnaut, says existing carbon goals, such as those in Britain's climate change bill, are based on out-of-date emissions figures, and are so ambitious that they could wreck attempts to agree a new global deal on global warming.

Garnaut says that nations must accept a greater amount of warming is inevitable, or risk a failure to agree that "would haunt humanity until the end of time."

The report, billed as the Australian Stern review, uses recent estimates of booming carbon emissions that were not included in last year's report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), or the 2006 report from Sir Nicholas Stern on the economics of the problem.

Since 2000, the Garnaut report says, global carbon emissions from fossil fuel use have grown by 3% each year, as economies of developing countries including China have boomed. This compares to annual growth rates of 2% through the 1970s and 1980s, and just 1% in the 1990s.

The report, published today, predicts that carbon dioxide emissions will continue to rise by more than 3% each year until 2030.

The worst case considered by the IPCC was that world carbon dioxide emissions would rise by 2.5% each year a scenario often criticised as too pessimistic. Most government projections and discussions are based on the milder IPCC "median" scenario, which sets an annual growth rate of just 2%.

Garnaut says the recent spike in emissions reflects a "platinum age" for the world economy, with growth exceeding the "golden age" of the 1950s and 1960s. And he says the trend raises "serious questions" about suggested climate targets.

Britain and Europe are pushing for the world to agree to limit carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere to 450 parts per million (ppm), which they say could avoid dangerous climate change. The level is currently more than 380ppm, up from 280ppm before the industrial revolution, and rising by more than 2ppm each year.

The framework for such an agreement was established at UN negotiations in Bali last year, and will be discussed in Poland this December. Analysts say a new treaty must be agreed at a meeting in Copenhagen, late next year, for it to enter into force in 2012, when the existing Kyoto protocol expires.

The Garnaut report says developed nations including Britain, the United States and Australia would have to slash carbon dioxide emissions by 5% each year over the next decade to hit the 450ppm target. Britain's climate change bill, the most ambitious of its kind in the world, calls for reductions of about 3% each year to 2050.

Garnaut, a professorial fellow in economics at Melbourne University, said: "Achieving the objective of 450ppm would require tighter constraints on emissions than now seem likely in the period to 2020 ... The only alternative would be to impose even tighter constraints on developing countries from 2013, and that does not appear to be realistic at this time."

The report adds: "The awful arithmetic means that exclusively focusing on a 450ppm outcome, at this moment, could end up providing another reason for not reaching an international agreement to reduce emissions. In the meantime, the cost of excessive focus on an unlikely goal could consign to history any opportunity to lock in an agreement for stabilising at 550ppm, a more modest, but still difficult, international outcome. An effective agreement around 550ppm would be vastly superior to continuation of business as usual."

Experts say that a 450ppm goal could limit temperature rise to 2C, while 550ppm would commit the world to 3C warming, which the IPCC warned would inflict drought and famine on hundreds of millions of people and devastate wildlife.

Friends of the Earth said: "A target of 550ppm of carbon dioxide is a recipe for disaster and even the lower target of 450ppm will mean we will face runaway climate change. The Arctic sea ice and Himalaya glaciers are already disappearing and the permafrost bomb is looming. We need much deeper cuts. Professor Garnaut has described strong targets as delusional, but he continues to feed a delusional policy debate that recognises the problem but doesn't want to implement the solution."

The report, which was released by the Australian government last month, comes after climate scientists criticised carbon targets as having no scientific basis and potentially leading to "dangerously misguided" policies.

Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows at the Tyndall centre for climate change research at Manchester University say global carbon emissions are rising so fast that they would need to peak by 2015 and then decrease by up to 6.5% each year for atmospheric CO2 levels to stabilise at 450ppm, which might limit temperature rise to 2C. Even a goal of 650ppm - way above most government projections - would need world emissions to peak in 2020 and then reduce 3% each year.


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