Latest UN report shows emissions growing, warming to hit 3.2oC by 2100 with current action
The UN has been repeating its climate crisis warnings ad nauseam, but top global economies hardly seem to care. Its latest Emissions Gap Report states that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have risen 1.5% per year in the last decade, stabilising only briefly between 2014 and 2016. Total GHG emissions, including from land-use change, stood at the historical high of 55.3 giga tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) in 2018. This means more drastic cuts will need to be taken with each year of delay—at the current rate, emissions will need to fall by 25% and 55% from the 2018 level if the world is to stick to the least-cost path to limit global warming to >2oC and >1.5oC, respectively. Indeed, global GHG emissions must fall by 7.6% each year between 2020 and 2030 if the world is to keep to the 1.5oC pathway. The report also makes clear how abjectly inadequate the current action is; with current unconditional nationally determined contributions (NDCs), there is a 66% chance that warming will reach 3.2oC, if not more, by 2100.
The UN couldn’t have stated it more squarely: “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.” And, the highest degree of responsibility to act is that of the top global economies. But, the participation of G20 members at the Climate Action Summit held in September in New York is a sign of the climate betrayal playing out—the US, the host, didn’t even speak at the summit. The latest UN report clearly names the US and China as the top emitters. While G20 economies being on track to meet their limited Cancun track should seem like good news—they account for 78% of the global GHG emissions—the US is one of the seven G20 countries that are currently projected to miss their Cancun Pledges or not achieve them with great certainty. Six, including China and India—India will overshoot its reduction target by more than 15%—are projected to meet their NDC reduction targets with current policies. But, the UN interprets this as a lack of ambition in targeting. Amongst the seven G20 members requiring additional policies and/or stricter enforcement of existing policies, the US has the largest gap to close, for both unconditional and conditional NDCs.
China emits 26% of the global GHG—the largest absolute emitter—and despite contributing significantly to the slowdown in emissions between 2014 and 2016, has seen emissions rise 1.6% in 2018. The US, the largest per capita emitter, saw a gradual decline in emissions of 0.1% per year in the last decade; but, in 2018, its emissions grew by 2.5%. While the US is quick to blame other nations, particularly, India and China—India contributes 7% of total GHG emissions, with a growth of 3.7% per year over the last decade—the fact is that the US and other developed nations, thanks to emissions over their respective histories of industrialisation, have shrunk the room for countries like India and China to grow without having to worry too much about the impact on climate. While the US’s NDC target under the Paris Agreement was to reduce emissions by 26-28% from 2005 levels by 2025, its climate-denier president, Donald Trump, is leading it in “the opposite direction”, having walked out of the Paris deal. The Clean Power Plan (CPP) of the Obama administration would have reduced power sector emissions by 32%; Trump’s Affordable Clean Energy plan that replaced the CPP will more or less maintain the sans-CPP levels of emissions. The Trump administration’s decisions on vehicle emissions and fuel economy standards will increase emissions from the transportation sector by 28-83 million tCO2e. It is true that 25 states in the US have joined the US Climate Alliance, a coalition committed to reducing emissions in line with the Paris Agreement, but unless there is commitment to act by the entire country—along with China, Canada, Russia and other economies that are failing to take ambitious action—the future seems quite bleak.