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Experts Say Current Carbon Emissions Plans May Not Be Enough

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The climate summit in Paris scheduled toward the end of the year has made a lot of headway in getting pledges to cut carbon emissions from various countries, but experts are saying these aren't enough.

Based on pledges already committed by the United States, China and the European Union, the climate summit will result in limiting pollution levels to 55 to 57 gigatons of carbon dioxide by 2030.

This number, while better than the current trajectory at around 70 GT, will still be higher than what experts have deduced the world would need to reach to have up to two-thirds of a shot at reducing global warming by two degrees over levels recorded during pre-industrial times. To achieve this, carbon dioxide levels will have to drop to 40 to 42 GT.

Global emissions pegged at around 47 GT in 2010 still resulted in warming of about 0.9 degrees. According to UK's Lord Nicholas Stern, what needs to be reached could be achieved in Paris, but instead of gunning for a two-degree limit on warming, the summit should be heading more toward a goal of at least three degrees based on current figures.

"We haven't been there for three million years and we've been at four degrees for tens of millions of years," he added.

Should warming reach three degrees over pre-industrial figures, it will likely result in "a very radical transformation." At four degrees, the effects could be "potentially devastating," with extreme weather events and rising sea levels wreaking havoc all over the world.

Stern also added that the success of the climate summit in Paris also depends on how countries involved would treat the event and consider it an important step toward making even more cuts in the coming years.

His estimates vary for Paris, partly on when China would reach its emissions peak. Last year, President Xi Jinping set 2030 as a target date, but the country may reach its goals sooner. Coal consumption accounts for the biggest source of emissions in China, but levels fell by 2.9 percent in 2014 and may keep falling as the country continues to fight pollution in its backyard.

Together with the United States', China's emissions equate to nearly half of emissions from all over the world. Because of the level of emissions they contribute, just the two countries participating in the effort will have a positive impact. Other richer nations following suit will result in a bigger impact on the fight against climate change.

Photo: Rowan Gillette-Fussell | Flickr

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