New global warming research

Are governments’ ambitions unrealistic?

Global carbon intensity decreased between 2000 and 2011 by around 0.8% a year

The annual rate of reduction of carbon emissions per unit of gross domestic product needed to limit global warming to 2°C has passed a critical threshold, according to a new analysis released by professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). The rate of reduction now required has never been achieved before.

The PwC Low Carbon Economy Index evaluates the rate of decarbonisation of the global economy that is required to limit warming to 2°C. The study shows that global carbon intensity decreased between 2000 and 2011 by around 0.8% a year.

In 2011, carbon intensity decreased by just 0.7%. It demonstrates that at current rates of emissions growth at least 6°C degrees of warming could be possible by the end of the century.

To limit global warming to 2°C would now mean reducing global carbon intensity by an average of 5.1% a year – a performance never achieved since 1950, when these records began.

The report says that governments’ ambitions to limit warming to 2° appear “highly unrealistic”.

With less than four weeks to the United Nations Climate Summit in Doha, the analysis illustrates the scale of the challenge facing negotiations. The issue is further complicated by a slow market recovery in developed nations, but sustained growth in E7 economies which could lock economic growth into high carbon assets.

Jayne Mammatt, an Associate Director in PwC’s Sustainability and Integrated Reporting Department says: “The risk to business is that it faces more unpredictable and extreme weather, and disruptions to market and supply chains. Resilience will become a watch-word in the boardroom – to policy responses as well as to the climate. 

"Emissions in South Africa fell by 1.5% in 2010 till 2011. The required annual decarbonisation rate for the period 2012 till 2050 period in South Africa is 5.6%.

“South Africa produces high levels of greenhouse gas emissions largely due to its heavy reliance on coal for electricity generation and to a lesser extent, the manufacture of liquid fuel from coal,” says Mammatt.

The government has committed to reductions in emissions from the business-as-usual scenario by 34% by 2020 and 42% by 2025 on condition that it receives finance and technology support from developed countries.

The study estimates that the world economy now needs to reduce its carbon intensity by 5.1% annually to 2050 to have a fair chance of limiting warming to 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

Even to have a reasonable prospect of getting to a 4°C scenario would imply nearly quadrupling the current rate of decarbonisation. The decarbonisation rate required for 2°C worldwide has not been achieved in a single year since World War 2.

The closest the world came to that rate of decarbonisation was during the severe recession of the 1970s and early 1980s and the late 1990s.

The report warns that “governments and businesses can no longer assume that a 2°C warming world is the defaults scenario”. It adds that any investments in long-term assets or infrastructure, particularly in coastal or low-lying regions need to address far more pessimistic scenarios.

“Climate change has emerged as one of the most important political and business issues of our time. There is a need for much more ambition and urgency on climate policy, at both the national and international level.

“While we’ve reversed the increase in emissions intensity reported last year, we’re still seeing results which are simply a little too late. We’ve now got to achieve, for the next 39 years running, a target we’ve never achieved before,” says Mammatt.

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