The ultimate objective of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is to achieve the stabilization of greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Such a level should be achieved within a time frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner (Article 2).
This Chapter discusses Article 2 of the Convention within the framework of the main options and conditions under which it is to be implemented, reflects on past and future GHG emission trends, highlights the institutional mechanisms currently in place for the implementation of climate change and sustainable development objectives, summarizes changes from previous assessments and provides a brief roadmap for the ‘Climate Change 2007: Mitigation of Climate Change’ assessment.
Defining what is dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system and, consequently, the limits to be set for policy purposes are complex tasks that can only be partially based on science, as such definitions inherently involve normative judegments. Decisions made in relation to Article 2 will determine the level of GHG concentrations in the atmosphere (or the corresponding climate change) that is set as the goal for policy and have fundamental implications for emission reduction pathways as well as the scale of adaptation required. The choice of a stabilization level implies the balancing of the risks of climate change (risks of gradual change and of extreme events, risk of irreversible change of the climate, including risks for food security, ecosystems and sustainable development) against the risk of response measures that may threaten economic sustainability. There is little consensus as to what constitutes anthropogenic interference with the climate system and, thereby, on how to operationalize Article 2 (high agreement, much evidence).
Although any definition of ‘dangerous interference’ is by necessity based on its social and political ramifications and, as such, depends on the level of risk deemed acceptable, deep emission reductions are unavoidable in order to achieve stabilization. The lower the stabilization level, the earlier these deep reductions have to be realized (high agreement, much evidence).
At the present time total annual emissions of GHGs are rising. Over the last three decades, GHG emissions have increased by an average of 1.6% per year with carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the use of fossil fuels growing at a rate of 1.9% per year. In the absence of additional policy actions, these emission trends are expected to continue. It is projected that – with current policy settings – global energy demand and associated supply patterns based on fossil fuels – the main drivers of GHG emissions – will continue to grow. Atmospheric CO2 concentrations have increased by almost 100 ppm in comparison to its preindustrial level, reaching 379 ppm in 2005, with mean annual growth rates in the 2000–2005 period that were higher than those in the 1990s. The total CO2 equivalent (CO2-eq) concentration of all long-lived GHGs is currently estimated to be about 455 ppm CO2-eq, although the effect of aerosols, other air pollutants and land-use change reduces the net effect to levels ranging from 311 to 435 ppm CO2-eq (high agreement, much evidence).
Despite continuous improvements in energy intensities, global energy use and supply are projected to continue to grow, especially as developing countries pursue industrialization. Should there be no substantial change in energy policies, the energy mix supplied to run the global economy in the 2025–2030 time frame will essentially remain unchanged – more than 80% of the energy supply will be based on fossil fuels, with consequent implications for GHG emissions. On this basis, the projected emissions of energy-related CO2 in 2030 are 40–110 % higher than in 2000 (with two thirds to three quarters of this increase originating in non-Annex I countries), although per capita emissions in developed countries will remain substantially higher. For 2030, GHG emission projections (Kyoto gases) consistently show a 25–90% increase compared to 2000, with more recent projections being higher than earlier ones (high agreement, much evidence).
The numerous mitigation measures that have been undertaken by many Parties to the UNFCCC and the entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol in February 2005 (all of which are steps towards the implementation of Article 2) are inadequate for reversing overall GHG emission trends. The experience within the European Union (EU) has demonstrated that while climate policies can be – and are being – effective, they are often difficult to fully implement and coordinate, and require continual improvement in order to achieve objectives. In overall terms, however, the impacts of population growth, economic development, patterns of technological investment and consumption continue to eclipse the improvement in energy intensities and decarbonization. Regional differentiation is important when addressing climate change mitigation – economic development needs, resource endowments and mitigative and adaptive capacities – are too diverse across regions for a ‘one-size fits all’ approach (high agreement, much evidence).
Properly designed climate change policies can be part and parcel of sustainable development, and the two can be mutually reinforcing. Sustainable development paths can reduce GHG emissions and reduce vulnerability to climate change. Projected climate changes can exacerbate poverty and undermine sustainable development, especially in least-developed countries. Hence, global mitigation efforts can enhance sustainable development prospects in part by reducing the risk of adverse impacts of climate change. Mitigation can also provide co-benefits, such as improved health outcomes. Mainstreaming climate change mitigation is thus an integral part of sustainable development (medium agreement, much evidence).
This chapter concludes with a road map of this report. Although the structure of this report (Fourth Assessment Report (AR4)) resembles the Third Assessment Report (TAR), there are distinct differences. The AR4 assigns greater weight to (1) a more detailed resolution of sectoral mitigation options and costs, (2) regional differentiation, (3) emphasizing cross-cutting issues (e.g. risks and uncertainties, decision and policy making, costs and potentials, biomass, the relationships between mitigation, adaptation and sustainable development, air pollution and climate, regional aspects and issues related to the implementation of UNFCCC Article 2), and (4) the integration of all these aspects.