As governments work feverishly in Paris to complete a new global climate change agreement, scientists say the last draft of the pact, released on Dec. 10, lacks specific details needed to meet its goal.
The aim of the draft deal would be to hold human-caused global warming to “to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels.” The language of the draft no longer includes a deadline of 2100 for achieving this goal.
This wording fails to send a clear signal to businesses and investors about the timing and degree of greenhouse gas emission cuts ,says Johan Rockström, professor of environmental science and executive director of the resilience center at Stockholm University. Companies and investors need that information to help them drive innovation toward new, low- or no-emission technologies, he says.
Over many months, negotiators fought repeatedly over suggestions that the agreement specify that emissions of greenhouses gases should be cut by somewhere between 40 and 95% — or 40 and 70% — by 2050. From a policy perspective, such numbers are problematic, explains Elliot Diringer, executive vice president of the Center for Climate & Energy Solutions , a nonpartisan U.S. group that advocates for action to combat climate change. If negotiators settled on number or a range, countries would then have to take on the essentially impossible task of apportioning allowable emissions among the 193 members of the United Nations, Diringer explains.
In the most recent draft, governments opted for “rather vague formulations,” says Steffen Kallberkken, an economist at the CICERO Center for International Climate & Environmental Research in Oslo. The draft text says countries should aim to peak emissions “as soon as possible” then cut emissions rapidly thereafter, reaching “greenhouse gas neutrality” in the second half of this century.
Exactly what this “neutrality” means remains open to interpretation. “The language of ‘greenhouse gas neutrality’ opens up the possibility of relying on massive carbon sinks” — such as forests and wetlands — “while continuing to burn fossil fuels. This is a very risky future,” Rockström says. Some suggest that “neutrality” could involve reliance on as-yet unproven, large-scale geoengineering projects to strip CO2 out of the air and sequester it.
Kevin Anderson, professor of energy and climate at the University of Manchester, says as governments develop climate policies, they should assume that geoengineering will not work. Then, if CO2 -removal technology — or another form of engineering that would reflect some of the sun’s radiation into space — does come to fruition, they can adjust those policies, adds Anderson, who is deputy director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in the U.K.
The final version of the deal, which negotiators hope to clinch on Dec. 12, a day later than scheduled, is expected to be similar to the penultimate draft.