On Thursday, the leaders of the world’s largest economies will meet in L’Aquila, Italy, at the Major Economies Forum (MEF) to discuss progress towards a new global climate agreement. In six months, a deal is supposed to be struck in Copenhagen, so the MEF meeting comes at a vital moment. When many of the same leaders met in April to address the economic crisis, they rightly pledged to do “whatever is necessary.” The same spirit needs to animate the L’Aquila meeting.
There is enormous good will to do so. The new US administration is supporting strong action. China is setting ambitious targets for reducing energy intensity and making massive investments in renewable energy. India has put forward its own action plan. Europe has set a goal of cutting emissions by 30 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 if there is an ambitious global agreement. Japan has published its proposals for major carbon reductions. Across the world, commitments are forthcoming.
But practical challenges remain. What is being asked is that global emissions be less than half their 1990 levels by 2050, having peaked before 2020. Since emissions from the developing countries are on the whole lower than those of the developed world it has been proposed that developed countries cut emissions by at least 80 percent relative to 1990 by 2050, with major steps towards this goal over the next decade.
Developing countries will also need to play their part, significantly slowing and peaking emissions growth in the coming decades. For the US, such commitments would mean cutting emissions to around one-tenth of today’s per capita level, while for China it would mean creating a new low-carbon model of economic development. For all countries, this is a major challenge.
The good news is that if we focus on clear, practical, and achievable goals, major reductions can be made in order to ensure that, whatever the precise interim target, the world will fashion a radical new approach within a manageable timeframe. A new report from the “Breaking the Climate Deadlock” project, a strategic partnership between my office and The Climate Group, shows how major reductions even by 2020 are achievable if we focus action on certain key technologies, deploy policies that have been proven to work and invest now in developing those future technologies that will take time to mature.
Fully 70 percent of the reductions needed by 2020 can be achieved by investing in three areas: increasing energy efficiency, reducing deforestation and use of lower-carbon energy sources, including nuclear and renewables. Implementing just seven proven policies — renewable energy standards; industry efficiency measures; building codes; vehicle efficiency standards; fuel carbon content standards; appliance standards, and policies for reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation — can deliver these reductions.
All seven policies have already been successfully implemented in countries worldwide, but they need scaling up. While cap-and-trade systems or other means of pricing carbon emissions can help provide incentives for businesses to invest in low-carbon solutions, in the short term at least, these seven policy measures are needed to achieve the targets.
In the longer term, we also need technologies such as carbon capture and storage (CCS), expanded nuclear power and new generations of solar energy, together with the development of technologies whose potential or even existence is still unknown. The important thing for Copenhagen is that decisions are taken now for investments that will yield benefits later.