Top emitters must commit to a U-turn at COP25

Epitomizing the disconnect between scientific warnings and human action, global temperatures are now on track to rise by an unacceptable 3.2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels by 2030 while greenhouse gas emissions hit all-time highs.

As the 25th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, COP25 meets in Madrid December 2-13, the big emitters need to commit to a U-turn in their emission trajectory to avert the extreme impacts that scientists project.

Leaders in the top-emitting nations need to drive climate action in view of their high share in carbon emissions (Figure 1).

The top 10 percent of countries (20 of them) make up 81 percent of global carbon discharges, starting with China, the United States, India, Russia, and Japan.

Given the dominance of these large economies, their national policies make all the difference to whether we can expect a reversal in the carbon intensity of global economic growth.

A recent U.N. report calls for a 7.6 per cent a year emission decline for the next 10 years to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels.

Contrastingly, emissions have increased 3 per cent over the past three years, led by the United States, China, and India.

To motivate far stronger steps, it would help to be convinced that the payoffs from switching to a low-carbon growth path far outweigh the costs of making the transition.

The benefits of climate action include avoided damages from climate change. And there is growing evidence on the damages that can be averted by timely climate action.

India, according to a World Bank estimate, could incur damages of 2.8 per cent of GDP by 2050 in the current climate trajectory.

A recent estimate places the loss from climate change from extreme weather events for 82 countries at 3 per cent of GDP by 2050.

There are also costs to taking climate action.

For instance, the cost of switching from fossil fuels to low-carbon sources of energy.

These costs of acting, however, are much smaller than the above-mentioned costs of not acting. The costs of addressing the climate crisis rise with every delay in taking measures, thus placing a premium on timely responses.

Past estimates, however, understate the true damages of climate inaction.

For one thing, improved global elevation data show coastal levels and habitats to be much lower and therefore the risk of floods and storms much higher than earlier maps had suggested.

Furthermore, we are also seeing climate-aggravating feedbacks that were not fully appreciated before.

For example, temperatures are increasing energy consumption in air conditioning and refrigeration. Also, global warming is making forest fires more destructive, in turn contributing to new climatic extremes.

Armed with all this knowledge, the single biggest step the big carbon-emitting countries could take is to cut their fossil fuel combustion.

Eliminating all subsidies to fossil fuel production and consumption is a part of this agenda. Continue reading

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