U.N. releases plan to help world’s largest economies avoid climate catastrophe

Jeffrey Sachs of the Earth Institute

effrey Sachs, Director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, said talking in the abstract was failing to produce the deep changes needed to move to a low-carbon global economy. Photograph: Ted Aljibe/AFP/Getty Images

There is general agreement that the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009 was a failure and that since then little to no concrete action has been taken by the world’s major powers to alleviate the causes of climate change. But perhaps now there is at least a glimmer of hope.

On Tuesday, the United Nations was presented with a roadmap to avoid a climate catastrophe, prescribing specific actions for the world’s biggest economies to keep warming below 2C.

In a report prepared for the Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, experts from 30 international institutions set out a range of strategies for the economies responsible for more than two-thirds of global emissions.

The initiative is the first of its kind to try to make concrete plans around the various targets that have been discussed at the UN climate change negotiations over the last two decades, said Jeffrey Sachs, director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute.

“All we have been doing in these negotiations for all these years is talking about things in the abstract. It’s not producing the deep technological changes that can get us to a low-carbon global economy,” he told the Guardian.

The report, which details data on electricity supply, transport and shipping, and building codes in each country, was aimed at remedying this by making the targets operational, he said.

The study looks at the world’s 15 biggest economies: America, Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, and South Korea. Between them, these countries account for 70% of global emissions.

The report rejects the doomsday thinking that seems to be prevalent in many camps that the planet warming by 4 or 5C is already inevitable.

“We do not subscribe to the view held by some that the 2C limit is impossible to achieve and that it should be weakened or dropped altogether,” the report said, adding that the science about the 2C threshold was clear.

But it goes on to say that it’s time to take effective and proactive action – that the time to assess and consider is past. The report and its authors are clear that it’s time for leaders to direct government officials and independent institutions to work on the technologies that will actually produce reductions in emissions.

Perhaps now that there’s a roadmap of sorts with concrete steps laid out, even with its missing aspects such as a cost-benefit analysis , our world leaders will finally quit postponing and posturing and get down to real action in our behalf. The ticking clock keeps getting louder.

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