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Closing the Mitigation Gap

The Challenge Facing a Shared Vision for Action to Avoid Dangerous Climate Change

SOURCE: Ap/Alik Keplicz

Polish children sing Christmas Carols calling for delegates of the U.N. Climate Change Conference to show wisdom, in Poznan, Poland.

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About the Global Climate Network

Current proposals from the United States and European Union for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 relative to 1990 levels would result in industrialised countries (known in climate negotiations as ‘Annex 1’ countries) reducing emissions by between 10 and 25 per cent if replicated across this group as a whole. Even at the top end of this range, a significant 2020 ‘mitigation gap’ would have opened up against the reductions necessary to stay on track for a halving of global emissions by 2050.

This paper—the first by the newly formed Global Climate Network—spells out what is perhaps the greatest policy challenge of our age: on the one hand, current proposals for 2020 emissions cuts in industrialised countries are insufficient to ensure that global reductions are kept on track for a halving or better by 2050. Yet on the other, developing (known as non-Annex 1) countries are unlikely to accept the substantial costs associated with closing the resulting mitigation gap while their levels of wealth and per capita usage of energy are still comparatively low.

The ‘shared vision’ part of the ongoing climate change negotiations is due to be discussed at a high- level ministerial meeting in Poznan, Poland, on Thursday 11 December 2008. We conclude that this discussion needs to go beyond the setting of targets and focus on enabling actual reductions, which are only possible through new technology, with new finance and by equitably sharing the global costs.

New analysis commissioned by the Global Climate Network shows that without such a focus, a ‘mitigation gap’ could open up and undermine the credibility of a post-2012 regime that has the aim of avoiding dangerous climate change. For instance, if all Annex 1 countries were to make emissions reductions comparable in scope with those recently discussed for the US by President-elect Obama – a return to 1990 levels by 2020—then net Annex 1 emissions in 2020 would only be around 10 per cent below 1990 levels, leaving a mitigation gap equivalent to a non-Annex 1 deviation from its business-as-usual baseline of at least 24 per cent. (See note 10, page 6.)

Alternatively, if all Annex 1 countries reduced emissions to a level comparable with the EU’s most ambitious proposal—a 30 per cent cut by 2020—then net Annex 1 emissions reductions in 2020 would be around 25 per cent below 1990 levels. Even this deeper level of Annex 1 cuts would leave a significant mitigation gap, equivalent to a deviation from business-as-usual by non-Annex 1 countries of at least 15 per cent in addition to hosting Annex 1 cuts through offsetting. For instance, the EU’s proposals allow for upward of one-third of emissions reductions to be offset as cuts elsewhere rather than being found in the EU.

Important though long-term goal-setting is, agreement on closing the mitigation gap through a negotiation that hinges on binding commitments outside Annex 1 is currently unlikely. It is inconceivable that developing countries will be prepared to meet the costs of closing the mitigation gap when so much of their development is still pending. Equally, however, while industrialised countries may strengthen their own targets, it is unlikely that they will muster the necessary resources to cover the whole cost of closing the mitigation gap either. Up to this point, political reality has remained immutable in both Annex 1 and non-Annex 1.

Ultimately, the costs of closing the mitigation gap will need to be equitably distributed, with policies to achieve additional emissions reductions through rapid technology development and deployment and significant new funds to drive both being paramount. Since the Poznan meeting will set the tone for a year of intense negotiation, focusing on a shared vision for the equitable mobilisation of new technology and additional finance may pay political dividends in Copenhagen in one year’s time and help reinforce the credibility of the UN climate process.

Download the full report (pdf)

About the Global Climate Network

The Global Climate Network is a collaboration of independent and progressive research and policy organisations in countries key to tackling climate change. Together, members of the Network are committed to addressing the constraints faced by sovereign governments in agreeing international action.

The Network aims to help governments clear a pathway towards an effective and fair international post-2012 agreement for avoiding dangerous climate change and subsequently help countries meet their obligations. In particular, the Network aims to:

  • Address the political (economic, social and cultural) constraints barring the way to action by bridging the divide between domestic and international policy
  • Promote equitable solutions that take into account the huge development, financial and energy challenges countries face
  • Champion ideas and innovations to help construct a new political narrative that links action on climate change with enhanced economic and social well-being.

Alone, each Global Climate Network member has significant credibility and influence. By producing joint research, staging events together and seeking to influence policy, the Network can help bridge the dangerous divide that exists and is currently widening between international negotiations and national politics.

The following members of the Networks have contributed to this paper:

Institute for Public Policy Research (ippr), UK, also acting as the secretariat for the Network: The UK’s leading progressive think tank with a strong, 20-year track record on research and policy.

Center for American Progress, USA: Founded by John Podesta, former Chief of Staff to President Clinton.

Research Centre for Sustainable Development, China: An independent institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Dr Jiahua Pan, its director, is one of 12 members of the Chinese Experts Committee for Climate Change.

Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy, Germany: Wuppertal Institute’s ground-breaking climate change work is led by Dr Hermann Ott.

Vitae Civilis, Brazil: Dr Rubens Born, Vitae Civilis’s director, has had significant input into the Brazilian government’s recently published climate change plan.

International Centre for Energy, Environment and Development, Nigeria: ICEED Nigeria has expertise in climate change and energy policy.

The Climate Institute, Australia: Set up in 2005, the Institute is a leading Australian voice in climate research and advocacy, pioneering clean technology and investment solutions with government and business.

Network members engage in collaborative research projects and bring forward joint analysis to address the political and policy constraints to cooperative international action on climate change. While often focusing on domestic policy in member countries, each project is linked to the international negotiations and is relevant to one of the fives themes of the Bali Action Plan: Shared vision, mitigation, adaptation, technology and finance.

Dr Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Director General of The Energy and Resources Institute in Delhi, and Lord Chris Patten of Barnes, are the Network’s first patrons.

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