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Over the past decades, global greenhouse gas emissions have risen steadily. This year, ahead of the UN’s COP 21 climate summit, countries pledged contributions towards global climate mitigation. But their combined commitments add up to only an estimated 45 per cent of what’s needed to limit global warming.
We talk to UN Environment Programme (UNEP) chief scientist Jacqueline McGlade as her organisation releases a study that says the world must reach zero net emissions sometime between 2060 and 2075 if global warming is to be kept below the two degree Celsius cap deemed necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change.
Zero net emissions doesn’t mean that all carbon emissions must cease. Instead, for each unit of greenhouse gas emitted, another must be removed from the atmosphere. But UNEP estimates that the world needs to more than double the mitigation actions made in this year’s pledges to ensure the two degree ceiling isn’t breached.
To do so, countries must deploy so-called negative emission technologies at scale. Among them, tree planting is one way to capture carbon dioxide, but carbon capture and storage, which artificially removes emissions from the atmosphere and stores them underground, is deemed crucial too, and it is still at an early stage of development.
Adding to this challenging scenario, this week at COP 21 a new, more ambitious vision is gaining momentum. Negotiators and campaigners are calling for the warming target to be reduced to 1.5 degrees.
In this interview, McGlade talks about the new target, the need for negative emission technologies and what is at stake for vulnerable countries.