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Long road to travel before Paris climate targets reached

In Switzerland, the transport sector is responsible for about a third of emissions. Keystone

The nations of the world are preparing to strike a global agreement on climate change for the post-2020 period. Yet six months away from the Paris conference, their objectives differ markedly and even Switzerland’s are being greeted with scepticism.

The year 2015 will decide the kind of world our children and grandchildren will live in. This may sound like an exaggeration, but for many political leaders and climate experts, the international conference in ParisExternal link scheduled for December will be a turning point in determining the future of the planet’s climate. The objective is a universal and binding agreement to keep global warming to 2°C above the pre-industrial average.

The latest round of negotiations, which ended last week in Bonn, produced positive signals, says Bruno Oberle, head of the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment. “For the first time it is clear that almost all the parties, including the US, the European Union and China, want to get to an accord in Paris,” he told The key elements this accord will have, including the obligation to establish binding targets for control of climate change, are already taking shape, he believes.

“Yet there are great differences,” cautions Oberle. Two main questions remain open: the legal form of the future accord, and how efforts to reduce emissions are to be divided up between the different countries. “Should they all have the same obligations or should a distinction be made between industrialised and emergent economies? And if there is such a distinction, do we have to maintain the classification that considers China or Singapore as emerging economies, or do we take into account the realities, the responsibilities and the current and future capacities of everyone?” he wonders.

Halving emissions by 2030

In the run-up to Paris, all 196 member states of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change have been called upon to present their own “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” (INDCExternal links) for the post-2020 period. If found adequate, these are to be written into the final world agreement.

Switzerland was the first country to announce its objectives in February this year. The Swiss government has proposed a reduction of 50% by 2030 (in terms of 1990 figures) and 70-85% by 2050.

Since then, about 40 more countries have announced their voluntary commitments. These include:

The European Union (with 28 member states): reduction of at least 40% by 2030 (in terms of 1990 figures) and 80-95% by 2050.

The United States: reduction of 26-28% by 2025 (in terms of 2005 figures). Reduction of 80% by 2050.

Russia: reduction of 25-30% by 2030 (in terms of 1990 figures).

No word has been heard yet from some of the big polluters, like India and Brazil; they are not likely to hand in their INDCs before October. There is great interest in the reduction targets to be offered by China, regarded as the world’s number one polluter, which a few months ago announced its intention of reaching peak emissions by 2030.

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Promises not enough

The contributions currently on the table are in line with the recommendations of the IPCCExternal link. United Nations climate experts think that emissions should go down by 40-70% by 2050 if the rise in the earth’s temperature is to be limited to 2°C. This objective is recognised by the most industrialised countries, who at the last G7 summit committed themselves to “decarbonisation” of their economies by the end of the century.

However, according to the independent monitoring group Climate Action TrackerExternal link (CAT), the major industrialised economies are not doing enough. In its latest report issued in June, CAT points out that the current policies of G7 and EU countries will at most stabilise, but not reduce emissions by 2030.

Among the NGOs sounding the alarm is Oxfam. In its latest reportExternal link it shows that five of the seven countries belonging to the G7 have actually increased their use of coal since 2010.  

CAT’s researchers point the finger at Switzerland too. According to their evaluation, the Swiss contribution is only “mediumExternal link”, which means it is not compatible with keeping global warming below 2°C.  

This analysis confirms the evaluations of Climate Alliance, says Patrick Hofstetter, head of climate and energy affairs at WWF Switzerland. The reductions fixed by the Swiss government are “insufficient and unacceptable”, he says. “Switzerland should not limit itself to the IPCC recommendations, which concern global emissions. Highly industrialised countries, which have more in the way of technologies and better governance than emergent or developing countries, need to do more,” insists Hofstetter.

In a petition signed by over 100,000 people, Climate Alliance calls on Switzerland to set a reduction of 60% by 2030 and a complete end to the use of fossil fuels by 2050. The transportation sector and households have ample scope for reduction, Hofstetter maintains.

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What concerns the WWF spokesman in particular is the attitude of the Swiss government. The climate issue is no longer a priority, he thinks. “It is rather shocking to find that in the INDC of SwitzerlandExternal link, the government has not indicated how it intends to act in the national territory.”  

The INDCs of Switzerland are clear, transparent and ambitious, counters Oberle. The government spokesman emphasises that the emissions pro capita are below the European average and production of electricity (hydro or nuclear power) in Switzerland today is at just about zero emissions. “For these reasons, too, the potential for reduction by Switzerland is limited,” he says.

Six months away from the conference in Paris, Swiss climate negotiator Franz Perrez says he is confident. “In the French capital, it will be possible to conclude a climate agreement with obligations for all countries,” he said in a recent interview with the Bern daily Der Bund.

Time is moving on, however. The negotiators will have only ten days of official negotiations in September and October to draft the text that is to form the basis of the historic agreement.

Global emissions: in 2014, they remained stable (32.3 billion tonnes) compared with the previous year, according to the International Energy Agency. This a result of efforts by China to reduce carbon emissions and to develop renewable energy.

CO2: in March of this year the concentration reached the limit of 400 parts per million. It was 354 in 1990 and 359 in 200.

Average temperature on earth: since 1880, it has risen by 0.86 °C (1.75°C in Switzerland). Fourteen of the 15 hottest years in history were recorded in the 21st century, with 2014 the hottest ever measured.

(Translated from Italian by Terence MacNamee)

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