UN issues severe climate warning ahead of summit

A A A

The world is now firmly on the path for dangerous climate change in the coming century, a major new assessment reveals today on the eve of the forthcoming UN climate conference which opens next week in Mexico.

All the pledges of the nations which have agreed to cut or limit their emissions of greenhouse gases, when added together, still leave the world far short of what is needed to halt the coming rise in global average temperatures to 2C, generally regarded as the danger threshold, according to the study from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The study sets a gloomy context for the international climate meeting opening on Monday in the Mexican resort of Cancun, which is the successor meeting to the abortive Copenhagen climate conference of last year.

Copenhagen dashed many hopes when the countries of the world failed to agree new legally binding targets to cut their emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases in an attempt to keep global warming under control. However, a last-minute agreement was patched up, known as the Copenhagen Accord, under which nations could voluntarily pledge targets or other actions to get their emissions down.

Some 80 countries, including the biggest CO2 emitters – China and the US – have now made such pledges, ranging from the firm commitment of the EU and its member states to cut their emissions back by 20 per cent by 2020 (and by 30 per cent if other nations take similar action), to China's statement that it will "endeavour" to reduce the energy intensity of its economy – the amount of CO2 it takes to produce one unit of GDP – by 40 to 45 per cent by the same date.

However, the UNEP study calculates that even if these promises are carried out in full – which itself is a big if – they will still leave a massive "gigatonne gap".

Climate scientists consider that to be on a path to 2C and no higher, total world emissions of CO2 and other gases need to peak within the next 10 years and be brought down to about 44 gigatonnes (44 billion tonnes) by 2020. Currently, the world as a whole is emitting about 48 gigatonnes of CO2, and if economies take no action this figure is expected to rise to 56 gigatonnes in 10 years' time.

But even with full and strict implementation of the Copenhagen Accord pledges, this will only bring emissions in 2020 down to 49 gigatonnes – leaving a gap of five billion tonnes. And if the pledges are only loosely implemented the gap could be even greater, with global emissions rising to 53 gigatonnes in 10 years' time.

The task is to formalise and if possible increase the Copenhagen Accord pledges, but it is by no means clear that this is possible at Cancun – it may have to wait until the next climate conference in 2011.

Achim Steiner, the UNEP executive director, reflected this concern: "The challenge is to take the intent reflected in the Copenhagen Accord and bring it into a mutually reassuring framework, and you can go all the way to a legally binding agreement, or some other form."

News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
Life & Style
life
Arts & Entertainment
Jack Gleeson as Joffrey Baratheon in Game of Thrones
tv
Arts & Entertainment
Ken Loach (left) and Mike Leigh who will be going head to head for one of cinema's most coveted prizes at this year's Cannes Film Festival
filmKen Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
musicJethro Tull frontman leads ‘prog rock’ revival
Sport
Gareth Bale dribbled from inside his own half and finished calmly late in the final to hand Real a 2-1 win at the Mestalla in Valencia
sport
News
Youngsters around the country living it up in des-res two-storey garden mansions with a balcony
newsLuxury playhouses now on the market for as much as £800
News
news
News
The academic, Annamaria Testa, has set out on her website a list of 300 English words that she says Italians ought to stop using
newsAcademic speaks out against 'Italianglo' - the use of English words in Italian language
Extras
indybest
Life & Style
tech
Arts & Entertainment
Ricky Gervais at a screening of 'Muppets Most Wanted' in London last month
tvRicky Gervais on the return of 'Derek' – and why he still ignores his critics
Sport
Luis Suarez of Liverpool celebrates his goal
sport
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatreReview: Of Mice and Men, Longacre Theatre
Life & Style
Infant child breast-feeding with eyes closed
healthTo stop mummy having any more babies, according to scientists
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

Education: Secret of Taunton's success

Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
10 best smartphones

10 best smartphones

With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal