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Explained: Why three recent reports suggest we may be losing the fight against climate change

Countries collectively failed to stop the growth in global GHG emissions, meaning that deeper and faster cuts are now required

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: November 28, 2019 10:07:58 am
climate change, climate change address, united nations climate change, The Emissions Gap Report, The growing intensity of wildfires and their spread to new corners of the globe raises fears that climate change is exacerbating the dangers. (Alaska Division of Forestry via The New York Times)

As the leaders of the world’s nations assemble in Madrid for the 2019 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP25) beginning December 2, recent news on the global fight against climate change has been consistently disappointing. Consider:

The Emissions Gap Report

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) flagship Emissions Gap Report, which went online on Tuesday (November 26), said in its executive summary: “The summary findings are bleak. Countries collectively failed to stop the growth in global GHG emissions, meaning that deeper and faster cuts are now required.”

Among the report’s headline findings:

* Despite scientific warnings and political commitments, GHG emissions continue to rise, including by China and the United States, the two biggest polluters. “GHG emissions have risen at a rate of 1.5 per cent per year in the last decade, stabilizing only briefly between 2014 and 2016. Total GHG emissions, including from land-use change, reached a record high of 55.3 GtCO2e [gigatonnes (thousand million tonnes) of carbon dioxide equivalent] in 2018,” the report said.

* “Although the number of countries announcing net zero GHG emission targets for 2050 is increasing, only a few countries have so far formally submitted long-term strategies to the UNFCCC.”

* “The emissions gap is large. In 2030, annual emissions need to be 15 GtCO2e lower than current unconditional NDCs [Nationally Determined Contributions; the heart of the 2015 Paris Agreement] imply for the 2°C goal, and 32 GtCO2e lower for the 1.5°C goal.”

* “Dramatic strengthening of the NDCs is needed in 2020. Countries must increase their NDC ambitions threefold to achieve the well below 2°C goal and more than fivefold to achieve the 1.5°C goal.”

The COP25 will not seek to get countries to ramp up pledges to cut emissions; rather, it will seek to hammer out the final rules on implementing the Paris climate accord.

The World Meteorological Organisation

On Monday (November 25) the WMO, a specialized agency of the United Nations mandated to cover weather, climate, and water resources, reported that the emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide — all major greenhouse gases — have increased in the atmosphere since the middle of the 18th century.

“We are sleepwalking toward a climate catastrophe and need to wake up and take urgent action,” The New York Times quoted Alden Meyer, director of policy and strategy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, as saying after the report was published.

The Production Gap Report

The Production Gap Report made public earlier this month said that “governments are planning to produce about 50% more fossil fuels by 2030 than would be consistent with limiting warming to 2°C and 120% more than would be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C”.

This report — which follows in the footsteps of the UNEP’s Emissions Gap Report and other reports that review countries’ greenhouse gas emissions and compare them with the emission levels needed to meet global climate goals — is the “first assessment of countries’ plans and outlooks for fossil fuel production, and what is needed to align this production with climate objectives”.

The production gap is the largest for coal, the report said — “by 2030, countries plan to produce 150% (5.2 billion tonnes) more coal than would be consistent with a 2°C pathway, and 280% (6.4 billion tonnes) more than would be consistent with a 1.5°C pathway”.

Oil and gas are also on track to exceed carbon budgets as countries continue to invest in fossil fuel infrastructure that “locks in” oil and gas use, the report said.

“The effects of this lock-in widen the production gap over time, until countries are producing 43% (36 million barrels per day) more oil and 47% (1,800 billion cubic metres) more gas by 2040 than would be consistent with a 2°C pathway.”

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