World Can Peak Climate Warming Emissions by 2020

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Polar bear and yearlings on an ice floe, Nunavut, Canada. © Lee Narraway / Students on Ice (WWF-Canada)
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By Alex Whiting

LONDON – Environment – World emissions must peak by 2020 and decline soon after that if countries are to achieve their Paris climate goals and prevent global warming from spiralling to harmful levels, a former U.N. climate chief said on Monday.

Under the Paris Agreement, countries pledged to keep global average temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero in the second half of the century.

“In order to be a decarbonised economy by 2050, we have to bend the (emissions) curve by 2020,” said Christiana Figueres.

“Not only is it urgent and necessary, but actually we are very nicely on our way to achieving it,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation before launching a campaign to get governments, businesses, investors and other sectors behind a 2020 deadline.

The energy sector is well on its way to switching to renewable energy sources, while transport is picking up the pace, Figueres said.

Carbon dioxide emissions from the energy sector have stayed flat for the last three years, even while the global economy has continued to grow, as countries adopted cleaner energy sources, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

India, Norway and Germany all aim to switch completely to electric cars by 2030.

At least $1 trillion needs to be invested in clean technologies globally by 2020, said Figueres, who finished her term as executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change in July.

“The fact is that we’re moving in the right direction,” she said, adding that green bonds alone are predicted to reach $200 billion this year.

Figueres said clean technologies are cheaper and carry a lower financial risk than those based around fossil fuel use.

And cutting emissions has many short-term benefits such as better health, job creation, and food, water and energy security, she added.

Heavy industry and land use including farming and forestry are two sectors lagging behind in cutting emissions, she noted.

“It is absolutely a no-brainer to restore degraded lands because it’s cheap and helps with food security and avoidance of forced migration,” she said. “We know how to do it … Scaling up on that is going to be the difficulty.”


Ahead of the “Mission 2020” campaign launch, Erik Solheim, executive director of the U.N. Environment Programme, said the world had made “remarkable progress” in fighting climate change.

“We know the problem and we know the solutions, but we are not out of danger yet,” he added in a statement.

IEA executive director Fatih Birol said an early peak of emissions around 2020 is “critical”, and is “well within reach with existing technology and proven policies”.

Britain, meanwhile, has both cut its emissions and grown its economy more than any other G7 country over a 25-year period, the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) said on Monday.

In 2014 – the most recent year for which there are full figures across the G7 – the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions per capita were 33 percent lower than in 1992, while GDP per capita was 130 percent higher, the London-based ECIU said.

Emissions fell mainly because the country switched from coal to gas to generate electricity, introduced energy efficiency schemes to cut demand, and shifted to a more service-based economy, the ECIU said in a report.

“If you have consistent policymaking and cross-party consensus, it’s perfectly possible to get richer and cleaner at the same time,” said ECIU director Richard Black. “Britain isn’t the only country that’s done it – it’s true for most of the G7.”


Earlier this month, U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order to roll back climate change regulations ushered in by his predecessor Barack Obama, and in his election campaign vowed to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement.

Whether it would be better for the United States to stay in the accord is not a “black and white situation”, said Figueres.

If the United States remains, there is “full participation”, but if it leaves “it perhaps allows all the other countries to move forward more quickly”, she said.

Reporting by Alex Whiting @Alexwhi; editing by Megan Rowling.; Credit: The Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women’s rights, trafficking and property rights.

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