This blog was originally posted on the website Valuing Nature.

The assertion that we can achieve the emission reductions we need through pursuit of the 'business-case for sustainable development' cries out to be stared hard in the face, and a recent paper from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research seems to do just that.

First, 'Reframing the climate change challenge in light of post-2000 emission trends' challenges the 2'C threshold. The paper suggests that:

"In the absence of an almost immediate step change in mitigation (away from the current trend of 3% annual emission growth), adaptation would be much better guided by stabilization at 650 ppmv CO2e" [which corresponds to a temperature rise of approximately 4'C]. "However, even this level of stabilization assumes rapid success in curtailing deforestation, an early reversal of current trends in non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions and urgent decarbonization of the global energy system."

It goes on:

"Even atmospheric stabilization at 650ppmv CO2e demands the majority of OECD nations begin to make draconian emissions reductions within a decade... Unless economic growth can be reconciled with unprecedented rates of decarbonization (in excess of 6% per year), it is difficult to envisage anything other than a planned economic recession being compatible with stabilization at or below 650 ppmv CO2e."

In reflecting on the challenge that this poses, we should bear in mind that:

(1) Over the period 2000-2006, "the UK Government's emission inventory suggests, at best, that emissions have been stable." (p.4) This is despite the fact that one might expect initial attempts to curb emissions to be focussed on the most straightforward efficiency improvements where economic and environmental objectives most easily coincide.

(2) According to Sterne, "annual reductions [in emissions] of greater than 1 per cent have 'been associated only with economic recession or upheaval'" (p.18)