Pledged Emissions Targets Under the Copenhagen Accord Fall Short of Stated Goal

Researchers confirmed last week the combined emissions targets of the 55 nations that have submitted pledges under the Copenhagen Accord fall far short of the stated goal of limiting global average temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels by 2100.

Joint research from the MIT Sloan School of Economics, the Sustainability Institute, and Ventana Systems point towards a 3.9 degree C (7 degree Fahrenheit) rise in global mean temperature by century’s end. A scenario better than the 4.8 degree C (8.6 F) rise in a business as usual model, but one that puts already stressed ecosystems, like the Arctic and Antarctic, in severe jeopardy, and would likely cause disruption to hydrological patterns across the globe. Sea level rise could be as high as 5 meters (more than 16 feet). Island nations like the Maldives and Tuvalu, who so eloquently pleaded for a limit of 1.5 degree C to preserve their homeland, will be completely gone.

To meet the goal expressed in the Copenhagen Accord, global carbon emissions must peak this decade and be cut in half by mid-century, requiring 13 to 17 billion tons of reductions by 2020. The current commitment range from 2 to 9 billion tons.

Independent analysis by the World Resources Institute of pledges from only developed nations conclude those commitments fall “far short”  (at the risk of repeating ourselves) of the 25 percent to 40 percent emissions reduction by 2020 specified by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as necessary to stabilize CO2 concentrations at 450 parts per million. Beyond this level, and the risks rise significantly of global climate destabilization.

A new degree of collective ambition and cooperation will be required before the world sees a climate agreement consistent with limited warming to even 2C let alone the 1.5C goal named by a growing number of governments and civil society groups,” said Elizabeth Sawin of the Sustainability Institute, sounding faintly like UNFCCC executive secretary Yvo de Boer as he repeatedly prodded nations to more aggressive action in curbing their emissions.

Thomas Schueneman
Thomas Schueneman
Tom is the founder and managing editor of and the PlanetWatch Group. His work appears in Triple Pundit, Slate, Cleantechnia, Planetsave, Earth911, and several other sustainability-focused publications. Tom is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.

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