Minding the Gap in Cancún

photo: edgeplot

The United Nations Environment Programme released a report last week on the eve of the UN climate change negotiations in Cancún taking stock of last year’s Copenhagen Accord.

The Accord was the document that came out of last year’s negotiations.  It is a document that aspires to restrict global warming to 2˚ centigrade but is not legally-binding.  Consequently it relies on voluntary pledges from nations to reduce their emissions.

This report essentially runs the numbers submitted by various countries and compares them to climate modeling scenarios that would “likely” result in the 2 degree stabilization.  Because there is no consistency in the commitments submitted by 138 countries in response to the Accord, the report develops four basic implementation scenarios.

The main takeaway is that no matter how you cut it, the Copenhagen Accord commitments are likely insufficient to keep global emissions at a level that limits global warming to 2 degrees.

The report does indicate that the gap can be lessened by having strict accounting for land use offsets and for limiting the number of Kyoto-era reduction credits applicable to Copenhagen Accord commitments.

One of the main problems with the Accord is the lack of specificity in how it “counts” emissions reductions and offsets.  Although the meeting in Cancún is not expected to result in a legally binding treaty, there could be movement towards developing a shared understanding of some of these ambiguities.  Whether negotiators choose strict accounting methods or allow a multiplicity of loopholes could give some indication about the efficacy of the Accord and the seriousness of the 2 degree warming limit.