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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Column: Accelerate emissions cuts or else

    A report released a little over a week ago by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that governments must completely phase out the intensive usage of fossil fuels by 2100 if they wish to avoid an increase in global temperatures of more than 2 C and the resulting “severe, pervasive and irreversible” damage to the world. To contain warming, the report estimated that at least 80 percent of the world’s energy would need to come from low-carbon energy sources by 2050. Yet, while governments claim to be taking action, current initiatives are too slow and weak to do anything about this problem.

    On Oct. 23, the European Council set a binding goal that 27 percent of the EU’s energy usage would be met through renewable energy sources by 2030. In addition, greenhouse gas emissions would be cut by 40-percent by 2030, with a goal of cutting emissions by 80-95 percent by 2050. However, the 40-percent figure is too low to avoid the calamity envisioned by the IPCC.

    IPCC Vice-Chair Jim Skea commented to the BBC that the 40-percent cut was too low to meet the 2050 goal in time. In reality, the easiest changes are those made in the first portion of the transition; subsequent progress will likely be slower as new technologies are created and phased in. Skea added that the chosen numbers were largely politically-determined, as compared to what was actually needed. Some EU member states are also concerned about the economic implications of intense energy cuts, particularly if international competitors do not face the same commitments.

    Meanwhile, in June, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed the Clean Power Plan under the Clean Air Act, which provides state-by-state requirements to cut emissions with the goal of reducing carbon pollution 30 percent by 2030. Under the plan, Arizona would have to increase its renewable energy portfolio 15 percent by 2025.

    Kirsten H. Engel, a professor of law, said the proposal is “a very positive step” and added that the “EPA has done it in a way that is fairly deferential to the states and their energy sectors.”

    At the same time, Engel said the plan wasn’t necessarily enough.

    “I think I would like to see more,” Engel said. “This is the electricity sector. It would be an accomplishment for Arizona to do this, and I hope this is an opportunity for the state to invest more in renewable energy, but there are things the state could also do in other sectors.”

    Recent advances in U.S. and European climate change policy are important steps in the right direction but can’t avoid the predicted catastrophic increases in world temperatures. The limited scale of the European Council action, for example, appears to bow to immediate economic pressures rather than scale change for environmental sustainability.

    Short-sighted decisions are the norm for politicians seeking re-election, but leaders must begin to base policies on long-term economic and global stability considerations to avoid catastrophe. Arizona, for example, has proposed targets, but only in one sector. Incremental, uncoordinated efforts will not succeed. Policies must be grounded in science and coordinated broadly if adjustments will ever catch up to the pace of warming. Accelerated, binding targets are needed. Every region — not just the U.S. and Europe — must commit to them, which could lessen relative economic competitive advantage worries and make achievement of the IPCC targets feasible.

    U.S. and European actions mark an acceleration in emissions policy, but whether new, more fitting targets are made in the upcoming years will determine whether the world can avoid the impending catastrophic changes to global systems flagged by the IPCC.


    Julianna Renzi is a sophomore studying environmental science and economics. Follow her onTwitter.

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