U.N. issues report to guide cuts in greenhouse gases

A new United Nations study released Wednesday provides policymakers with technical and economically feasible guidelines on how to cut down greenhouse gas emissions so governments can meet their environmental targets by 2020.

“Bridging the Emissions Gap,” released by the U.N. Environmental Programme, argues that the world already has the solutions to avert damaging climate change, and gives specific recommendations to put these into action, highlighting the need for changes in the energy system and examining various economic sectors such as electricity production, transport, aviation, forestry and agriculture to consider for emissions reductions in the next 10 years.

“The annual UNEP Gap Report is a vital contribution to the global effort to address dangerous climate change,” said Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. “It shows that we have much to do, both in terms of ambition and policy, but it also shows that the gap can still be closed if we act now. This is a message of hope and an important call to action.”

The report also examines research on the gap between the pledges made by countries to cut their greenhouse gas emissions and what measures will be needed to keep the global temperature rise below the two degrees Celsius (3.6 F) target by 2020.

“This report puts into the hands of governments and policymakers vital information about their options if the world is to meet the climate change challenge,” said Achim Steiner, program executive director.

In particular, the report cites aviation and shipping as important sectors to focus on as they account for 5 percent of carbon dioxide emissions. However, these sectors fall outside the Kyoto Protocol, the emissions reduction treaty, whose first commitment period is due to expire in 2012.

“Options for reducing emissions from both sectors include improving fuel efficiency and using low-carbon fuels. For the shipping sector, another promising and simple option is to reduce ship speeds,” says the report.

Some of the report’s recommendations for policymakers include agreeing to implement the emissions reduction pledges with stricter rules, deciding to target their energy systems using more non-fossil fuels and renewable energy sources, and putting in place long-term, specific-sector policies to achieve the full emissions potential of the different economic sectors.

The provision of the guidelines, which involved 55 scientists and experts from 28 scientific groups across 15 countries, comes just a few days before the start of the U.N. Climate Change Convention in Durban, South Africa, and seven months before the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

“Time is short, so we need to optimize the tools at hand,” said Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change and a Costa Rican.

“In Durban, governments need to resolve the immediate future of the Kyoto Protocol, define the longer path towards a global, binding climate agreement, launch the agreed institutional network to support developing countries in their response to the climate challenge, and set out a path to deliver the long-term funding that will pay for that,” she said.

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