Government climate data slamed by Earthlife Africa

Carbon emissions targets contained in the government’s recently-tabled National Climate Change Response White Paper are “completely inadequate”, MPs heard on Tuesday.

This was the view of Earthlife Africa project co-ordinator Tristen Taylor during public hearings held by Parliament’s environmental affairs portfolio committee.

He said the targets proposed in the paper’s “peak, plateau and decline” strategy should be abandoned.

“Simply put, they are completely inadequate to even reach the two degrees target and are not a reflection of fair share under common but differentiated responsibilities.”

The committee is hosting the hearings on the white paper that was gazetted in October.

Emissions trajectory

Among other things, the document aims to limit man-made climate change to “well below” a maximum of 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

Citing figures from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an organisation endorsed by the white paper, Taylor said South Africa’s emission needed to peak within the next three years at the latest.

“The peaking year for CO2 emissions for a 2° pathway, [as per the IPCC figures] is somewhere between 2000 and 2015.”

The emissions trajectory contained in government’s white paper envisages a peak in South Africa’s carbon emissions in the period 2020 to 2025.

This is to be followed by a plateau period “for up to 10 years after the peak”, with emissions declining in absolute terms from 2036 onward.

Taylor said this was not compatible with keeping the rise in global temperature below 2°.

“It will be simply impossible to keep [the] temperature rise below 2° if emissions peak later than 2020, and the sooner we peak the easier it will be,” he said.

Feedback mechanisms

Scientists have warned that global warming greater than 2° runs the risk of triggering natural feedback mechanisms that could result in runaway climate change, a phenomena that would spell disaster for many parts of the world.

For the first time, government’s white paper spells out the absolute amounts of carbon dioxide South Africa is set to emit over the next four decades.

It puts the upper limit, at peak in 2025, at 614 million tons of CO2 (equivalent) a year; it pegs the range during the so-called “plateau” period at between 398 and 614 million tons; and, says this will decline, from 2036 onward, to between 212 and 428 million tons (in 2050).

In his submission to the hearings, Taylor recommended government adopt “a 2° carbon budget of between five Gigatons and 16 Gigatons of CO2 equivalent” for the period 2010 to 2050, considerably less than the white paper limits.

“It [government] should recognise that we have already peaked and need to reduce emissions immediately in a linear decline to 70 million tons of CO2 equivalent in 2050.”

Taylor called for the appointment of an independent scientific advisory panel to compile an emissions trajectory for South Africa.

Its findings should be in line with a global temperature rise of 1.5°C, and subject to peer review.

The peak, plateau, decline trajectory envisaged by the white paper “has no validity if South Africa is committed to fair share and keeping temperature increases well below 2°”, he said.

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