(3BL Media/Justmeans) When the leaders of the world’s largest economies, United States, Germany, Canada, Japan, Great Britain, France, and Italy, otherwise known as the G7, met last week to discuss the global economy, climate and energy were high on the agenda, given the heightened level of concern and the major climate talks coming up later this year in Paris.
The group took a bold step, pledging to completely phase out greenhouse gas emissions by the century’s end, and to cut somewhere between 40 and 70% by 2050. Can they back it up? Not by themselves. These seven countries currently represent about a third of the world’s GHG emissions. That means they can have a significant impact, but they can’t do it without help, especially from rapidly growing economies like China (now the #1 emitter), India (#4) and Russia (#5). That will not be easy, considering that even among those in the G7, consensus did not come easily. Both Canada and Japan pushed back before finally agreeing to sign on to the statement that said, “We commit to doing our part to achieve a low-carbon global economy in the long-term including developing and deploying innovative technologies striving for a transformation of the energy sectors by 2050 and invite all countries to join us in this endeavor. To this end we also commit to develop long term national low-carbon strategies.”
However, if the goal is to limit global warming to 2 degrees or less, the goal of eliminating emissions by the end of the century is not enough. Even the 40 to 70% cuts mentioned by 2050 will fall short, even at the higher end, according to some sources. The carbon calculus shows that we have used up about two-thirds of the total emissions limit of around 3,200 gigatonnes that must be maintained if we hope to keep the climate from spinning out of control. At the current rate of emissions, we will run through that in the next 27 years. That’s a frightening thought when you consider that, at this point, the rate is still going up (albeit more slowly than it was a few years ago). That trend has to be dramatically reversed if the goal is to be met. Keep in mind that most greenhouse gases remain in the atmosphere for a hundred years or more, so even when we stop emitting, it will take a while for the concentration to begin falling. It also means that when we stop, we need to stop for good, or at least the next hundred years. Given the way that these emissions accumulate in the system, the sooner we act, the better.