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Emissions Targets

To reduce (i.e. mitigate) the more serious consequences of Climate Change, we must reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases. The UK has an important role in influencing / leading the world by following our emissions reduction targets. This section aims to show what these targets are, where the challenges are and how well we are doing. I start by looking at UK emission targets in detail. I then move on to discuss the outcome of the Copenhagen summit, and what is meant by the targets they discussed.

UK Emissions

This section looks at UK targets: what they are and how we are going to meet them.

UK emissions targets  -  The UK has lead the world by setting strong greenhouse gas reduction targets. Emissions since the 1990 baseline are shown to be encouraging: we have already exceeded our Kyoto Protocol target, by twice as much as the required 12.5%. The cuts have been most effective in gases like methane and nitrous oxide. Carbon dioxide emissions have reduced by one-tenth but we now have a big challenge to bring this down to meet our mid-century targets.

Where to target our efforts  -  This section looks at the make-up of UK emissions. Carbon dioxide emissions from power stations and transport need to be targeted as they are particularly significant (at 48% of our greenhouse gas emissions in 2008). We will need to encourage reductions in other sectors as well though. And there is still some scope in reduce emissions of the other greenhouse gases. The EU Emissions Trading Scheme is introduced: whilst it is neither a strong nor sustainable option, the scheme is expected to be important to help us drive down emissions from power and heavy industry.

The Center for Alternative Technology's Zero Carbon Britain (ZCB) is a vision for our country. It is a very well thought out document that demonstrates a sustainable future for the UK, which is not only achievable but also very attractive. I can see - after years looking at the scale of the climate change challenge with a sense of resignation - this Zero Carbon future really is a ray of hope.

Action on UK emissions  -  Whilst our targets look challenging, there is good reason to be optimistic that we will meet them. The UK government has made strong commitments to tackle this, and its creation of the new Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC), in 2008, which is really pushing things forward.

The bigger picture

How might current UK targets influence China and the rest of the World? Are they strong enough?

How UK targets might influence China  -  This section looks at the history of UK emissions compared to our population growth. Using this we can see how our emissions grew to a per capita level of nearly 12 tonnes CO2 per person per year. It is very important to consider this when thinking about the emissions targets that we would want China to set. Using the principals conceived in the GCI's Contraction & Convergence model, we can develop emissions projections for China showing that they will grow for a few years before we can persuade them to be cut.

How UK targets might influence Global emissions  -  If we could persuade the rest of the World to converge with the UK emissions reductions, we might see an optimistic picture developing for the second quarter of the century. It is a big if though! We are going to test our powers of influence to do this. And we certainly wont have much hope of that if we don't meet our own targets.

Future UK targets  -  The UK is part of the 27 European countries that negotiate together to agree international targets for emissions reduction. As a group we pledged to cut emissions by 20% to 30% by 2020 in the Copenhagen Accord. If the more ambitious target is adopted, this will mean that the UK will be signing up to a more ambitious 42% cut in emissions. This section shows that this will make a positive difference to global CO2 emissions. By comparison, weaker targets could see us following the worst case emission scenario until at least the 2020s.

Some lingering concerns  -  There is a lot of positive news about UK targets. If we meet them, and can persuade the rest of the world to follow suit, we could bring emissions down to the lowest modelled emission scenario. We do have a strong government department in place now to help guide and drive us to meet our emissions targets, and there are good plans to help us do this. But we haven't tested ourselves yet.

Global Emissions

Moving on from UK targets, and the hopes that we can persuade the rest of the world to set strong targets too: this section looks at the real state of global emissions, and the developing international agreements.

Global emissions so far  -  Between 2000-2008 our emissions of carbon dioxide [i] were worse than the worst case emission scenarios, which is obviously a worrying start. Since then the global recession is expected to have brought 2009 emissions down. How economic recovery will effect emissions is going to be very important for the future.

Copenhagen analysis  -  Analysing the pledges that were made by 55 parties that signed up to the Copenhagen Accord, you can see that it does not make for a strong agreement to curb greenhouse gas emissions. With the Accord alone, it seems very unlikely that we will meet the limit of a 2ºC rise in global temperature. The scale of emissions will be very much determined by the growth of countries like China and India, which could have us following the highest scenarios. And it all of course assumes that countries will honour their pledges, which might not be guarantee.

Conclusions  -  The future of global emissions is still uncertain following the Copenhagen Summit and the Accord that came from it. The pledges that countries have made to reduce emissions don't offer strong guarantees for the future: the rich countries are not offering very impressive cuts; and carbon-intensive economic-growth, of developing nations, could allow emissions to continue along the highest emission scenario line. Talks have just started at Cancun (Mexico), which will hopefully agree stronger targets. It looks like there is little hope of us restricting global mean temperature rise to 2ºC though.

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