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Adding regulation to short-term climate policy mix could help long-term goals

06 Aug 2018
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Policies to combat climate change in the short term may not currently be sufficient to realise the long-term goals set in the Paris Agreement. Now researchers in Germany have assessed how to adjust these short-term policies to meet long-term goals while avoiding political and social disruption. Their work could be vital in ensuring the Paris targets are met.

“We show a way how current climate pledges by countries can be strengthened to be more in line with the world’s long-term goal of limiting warming to well below 2 °C,” says Elmar Kriegler at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Research, Germany. “There are political barriers to effective carbon pricing in many countries, so a mix of regulatory policies and moderate carbon pricing can help to keep the long-term goal within reach.”

The researchers calculated that by implementing their proposed regional policies globally, 10 billion tonnes of CO emissions could be avoided by 2030 compared with current plans, greatly reducing the challenges faced by long-term policies.

Though cost-effective, a comprehensive, global set of policies to set a price on carbon emissions is not a realistic prospect in the near future, according to the team. Since the needs of different regions and areas of the economy vary drastically, such all-encompassing measures could quickly result in unrest.

Instead, Kriegler and colleagues suggest a strengthening of existing plans by introducing more moderate policies for different regions, in line with the capabilities of these smaller areas. Such regional policies would include varying degrees of regulation in energy supply, transport, buildings, industry and land use.

“The strengthening of national climate policies and targets until 2030 is instrumental to ensure the success of the Paris Agreement,” Kriegler says. “Thus, national and global conversations on climate change should focus on how to strengthen action, not in the longer-term future, but right now with 2030 in view as a target year.”

Since the UN climate agreement in Paris in December 2015, there have been concerns about how the short-term plans it proposes will only slow, rather than entirely halting, emissions growth in the long term.

Ultimately, this means that actions in the short term may need to ramp up rapidly to reach the agreement’s long-term targets. Such rapid changes could quickly run into political difficulties, including job losses in a variety of sectors due to high carbon prices. Without further measures to combat these short-term policy issues, the goals of the Paris Agreement could be put in jeopardy.

“Short-term climate policies are needed to put the world on a low-carbon pathway,” says Kriegler. “Without stringent short-term policy action, the world’s carbon lock-in will further increase and quickly put the Paris climate goals out of reach. While the climate goals are long-term, our choices today are critical for achieving them.”

In future, Kriegler’s team aims to better describe the global impacts of carbon mitigation policies. Ultimately, the researchers hope to establish a set of indicators to evaluate the scope of climate policies, helping them to create stronger plans for short-term policies.

Kriegler and colleagues reported their findings in Environmental Research Letters (ERL).

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