By Jeffrey D. Sachs ,The Korea Herald/Asia News Network
Last week’s G-7 meeting at Schloss Elmau in the Bavarian Alps marked a major breakthrough in climate-change policy. The seven largest high-income economies (the United States, Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Canada) made the revolutionary decision to decarbonize their economies during this century.
For the first time in history, the major rich economies have agreed on the need to end their dependence on fossil fuels. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, U.S. President Barack Obama, and the other G-7 leaders have risen to the occasion and deserve strong global approbation. The historic breakthrough is recorded in the final G-7 communique. First, the G-7 countries underscored the importance of holding global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius. This means that the Earth’s average temperature should be kept within 2 degrees Celsius of the average temperature that prevailed before the start of the Industrial Revolution (roughly before 1800). Yet the global warming to date is already around 0.9 degrees Celsius �X nearly half way to the upper limit. Then, the G-7 leaders did something unprecedented. They acknowledged that in order to hold global warming below the 2 degrees Celsius limit, the world’s economies must end their dependence on fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas). Currently, around 80 percent of worldwide primary energy comes from fossil fuels, the combustion of which emits around 34 billion tons of carbon dioxide. This level of emissions, if continued in future decades, would push temperatures far above the 2 degrees Celsius upper limit. Indeed, with rising worldwide energy use, continued dependence on fossil fuels could raise global temperatures by 4-6 degrees Celsius, leading to potentially catastrophic consequences for global food production, higher sea levels, mega-droughts, major floods, devastating heat waves, and extreme storms. The science is clearer than many politicians would like. For humanity to have a ��likely�� chance (at least two-thirds) of staying below the 2 degrees Celsius threshold, a small reduction in CO2 emissions will not be enough. In fact, emissions will have to fall to zero later this century to stop any further rise in the atmospheric concentration of CO2. Simply put, the world economy must be ��decarbonized.�� The breakthrough at the G-7 summit was that the seven governments recognized this, declaring that the 2 degrees Celsius limit requires ��decarbonization of the global economy over the course of this century.�� The G-7 finally stated clearly what scientists have been urging for years: humanity must not merely reduce, but must end, CO2 emissions from fossil fuels this century.