David Gray / REUTERS A coal-burning power plant can be seen behind a factory in the city of Baotou, in China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, October 2010. 

The Truth About the Two-Degree Target

Why It Hasn't Helped Mitigate Climate Change

Upon reading Greenpeace International Executive Director Jennifer Morgan’s response (“Don’t Abandon the Paris Temperature Target,” February 28) to my recent Foreign Affairs article (“The Two-Degree Delusion,” February 8), one might think the world had made great headway in its efforts, dating back to the early 1990s, to stabilize global emissions. “It would be wrong,” she writes, “to become indecisive or to consider no longer pursuing the goals that to date have driven climate action.”

In reality, global emissions have risen faster in the 20 years since the world ratified the two-degree target at Kyoto in 1997 than they did over the 20 years before. Global clean energy as a share of total primary energy consumption has seen no increase. The long-term carbon intensity of the global economy, the amount of carbon emitted for every unit of economic production, also fell faster before Kyoto than after. Most nations, in fact, are not even on track to meet the commitments they made at Paris barely two years ago, targets that would have allowed temperatures to rise well past three degrees Celsius over the course of this century.

In the face of two decades of evidence that these sorts of goals have not produced any measurable progress toward mitigating climate change, Morgan nevertheless insists upon upping the ante on the two-degree target, asserting that the even more preposterous mark of 1.5 degrees remains within reach. This is possible, she argues, because the world is on the cusp of a disruptive energy technology revolution. Falling costs of solar, wind, and electric vehicles mean the targets are achievable.

Global emissions have risen faster in the 20 years since the world ratified the two-degree target at Kyoto in 1997 than they did over the 20 years before.

The argument itself is innumerate. Solar and wind combined account for four percent of global electricity generation, and the electrical sector in total accounts for only about a fifth of global emissions. Electric vehicles represented 1.5 percent of global vehicle sales in 2017, and light-duty vehicles accounted for nine

Loading, please wait...

Related Articles

This site uses cookies to improve your user experience. Click here to learn more.

Continue