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To slow climate change, major economy needs to take the lead

If leaders wait for consensus, researchers say, it will be too little too late.

By
Brooks Hays
President Barack Obama makes comments at a roundtable discussion with business leaders to discuss climate change and how new technologies can help. New research suggests the only way to stave off climate change is for a major economy to lead on the issue. Pool Photo by Aude Guerrucci/UPI
President Barack Obama makes comments at a roundtable discussion with business leaders to discuss climate change and how new technologies can help. New research suggests the only way to stave off climate change is for a major economy to lead on the issue. Pool Photo by Aude Guerrucci/UPI | License Photo

POTSDAM, Germany, Oct. 26 (UPI) -- In a new paper, climate scientists argue that the disagreement over how to combat climate change isn't all that complex. Effective solutions would fall into place, they say, if a single major economy would step up and lead on the issue.

"If either the European Union or the U.S. would pioneer and set a benchmark for climate action by others, the negotiation logjam about fair burden sharing could be broken," Malte Meinshausen, a climate scientist with Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and the University of Melbourne, said in a press release.

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Meinshausen is the lead author of the new paper, published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Science.

Taking a lead on global warming mitigation, as Meinshausen and his colleagues see it, means doubling carbon emissions reduction targets. This would limit a temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius, the threshold for major climatic change.

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Currently, nations are divided on how to go about reducing greenhouse emissions. The U.S. and Europe have argued for distributive justice, with every nation doing their part. Countries like India and China, who only recently industrialized, say emissions reduction targets should reflect a the history of emissions totals.

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Research shows that most nations prefer whatever scenario would see them meet the least aggressive reductions targets relative to their closest economic competitors.

In their newly published paper, Meinshausen and his colleagues argue that the lead of a forerunner would negate this discrepancy.

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"Now we have calculated how much a major economy would have to cut its greenhouse gas output if all the other countries would follow the emissions allocation scheme that is most favourable to them -- so some base their reduction number on the equal per capita scheme, others include the historical emissions, and still the 2 degree limit is met," explained co-author Louise Jeffery, climate researcher at the Potsdam Institute.

A single act of leadership would allow countries to take which ever approach they see most advantageous, while still keeping the 2 degree target within reach. The concept is called diversity-aware leadership.

"It builds on the assumption that most economically relevant countries participate in one way or another and ensures that the global efforts are successful in limiting warming to 2 degrees."

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Study authors say leadership is the only way to break the stalemate. If leaders wait for consensus, any changes will be too little too late.

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"If we postpone action until we have universal agreement on a fair allocation of emissions reductions," said co-author Sebastian Oberthuer, a climate scientists from Vrije Universiteit Brussel, "the result will be fair only in that everybody will lose -- because climate change will hit us all."

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