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Scientists call for climate goals to be set over next 25 years

Posted on 11 May 2017

Scientists argue that climate goals are needed for the immediate future to help achieve global sustainable development in the long-term.

The study highlights that short-lived climate pollutants are potent climate warmers, but reducing their emissions can effectively reduce warming in the immediate future as they do not linger long in the atmosphere.

Reducing these pollutants can also prevent millions of premature deaths from air pollution and improve crop yields, the report, published in Science, says.

Future generations

The Paris Climate Agreement’s long-term goal to keep warming below 2°C by the end of the century is important, the report outlines, but the authors state that more immediate goals for warming reduction must be set for the next 25 years in order to achieve the longer-term benefits.

Johan Kuylenstierna, Policy Director of the Stockholm Environment Institute, based at the University of York, said: “Adding a focus on near-term climate change in addition to long-term concerns will help countries frame climate action in the context of their national goals and objectives. 

“Including this within the timeframe for the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, for example, would reduce societal and environmental damage for both current and future generations.

“If governments reach the long-term Paris target by following a pathway with the lowest possible rates of warming and maximum sustainable development benefits in the near future, then they could benefit by strategically coordinating climate and development policies.

“Having a more immediate goal that achieves benefits across multiple objectives and multiple parts of the government can motivate action, focus effort and coordinate policy.”

Reducing emissions

The team, which includes the University of York, UK, and Duke University, US, and members of the Scientific Advisory Panel of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC), recommend adopting immediate goals to slow the global warming average over the next 25 years by half.

This involves reducing emissions of short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) like methane and black carbon by approximately 25% and 75%, respectively, by 2030, and eliminating high-warming hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).

Professor Drew Shindell, from the Duke University, said: “Damages due to climate change are already upon us, affecting the health and livelihoods of those alive today and challenging our ability to meet the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

“The rate of warming in the near-term affects the rate of crop failure in developing countries and the rate of sea-level rise. Policies to slow the rate have dramatic effects for food security and air quality.

“If we do not implement near-term strategies and only focus on long-term goals we will miss the opportunity to achieve multiple benefits and reduce premature deaths, avoid millions of tonnes of reduced crop yield and avoid climate-related impacts that will be associated with the rapid increases in temperature that would occur unless we take this action.”

The report argues that in many countries, additional efforts might be required to create emissions inventories for pollutants they have not previously considered or reported, and that countries need to report their pledges separately for different emissions, so that it is possible to understand the time development of global warming.

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