Cause and Effect | At COP28, world leaders are at a crossroads - Hindustan Times
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Cause and Effect | At COP28, world leaders are at a crossroads

ByTannu Jain
Nov 26, 2023 04:54 PM IST

Against a backdrop of months of devastating heat, the world is on track for 2.5 to 2.9°C warming, pushing the planet closer to irreversible climate breakdown

World leaders converging on Dubai for the COP28 summit have their task cut out for them: To agree on emissions cut and a phase-out of fossil fuels; operationalising the loss and damage fund; and to ensure action on the new and updated nationally determined contributions (NDCs).

The world is currently headed for 2.5 to 2.9°C warming over the pre-industrial period. (CREDIT: AP) PREMIUM
The world is currently headed for 2.5 to 2.9°C warming over the pre-industrial period. (CREDIT: AP)

Because if they don’t, and if the latest status check reports are to be believed, we may be looking at the end of the road for pulling the planet back from the brink of irreversible climate breakdown.

The world is currently headed for 2.5 to 2.9°C warming over the pre-industrial period, said the United Nations Environment Programme’s Emissions Gap 2023 Report on November 20.

Hours after the report was released, an update from the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) showed that global temperatures may have temporarily breached the 2°C threshold — on November 17 and then again on November 18 — that scientists believe could cause irreversible damage to Earth if it persists for longer periods.

“ERA5 data from @CopernicusECMWF indicates that 17 November was the first day that the global temperature exceeded 2°C above pre-industrial levels, reaching 2.07°C above the 1850-1900 average and the provisional ERA5 value for 18 November is 2.06°C,” the organisation posted on X.

There are two strands in this data to focus on, apart from the catastrophic temperature rise that is staring humanity in the face.

First, yes, the breach was temporary. The rise on two days does not mean the world has already failed to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. All such goals are for long-term climate, which is the aggregate of weather over decades. According to the latest estimates, the world is around 1.15°C warmer than pre-industrial levels.

Second, even if briefly, the breach shows the impact even small degrees of temperature rise can have.

The data for November 17 and 18 came after months of devastating heat across the globe and record-setting temperatures for the summer. The June-July-August (JJA) period was the warmest the world has seen since 1880. And the year 2023, will indeed be the hottest year.

And yet, greenhouse gas emissions increased by 1.2% from 2021 to 2022, reaching 57.4 Gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e), and setting another (rather disconcerting) record.

Nearly 80% of historical CO2 emissions came from G20 countries. (CREDIT: AFP)
Nearly 80% of historical CO2 emissions came from G20 countries. (CREDIT: AFP)

The World Meteorological Organization, in its greenhouse gas bulletin released on November 15, appeared to clearly back the UNEP findings.

In a first, global average concentrations of CO2 were 50% above the pre-industrial level in 2022, and continued to increase in 2023. The rate of growth, to some joy, was lower than in 2021.

The global mean CO2 concentration in 2022 was 417.9ppm, up from 415.7pmm in 2021.

A tiny fraction, right?

But this tiny fraction also coincided with a 0.02°C temperature rise between the two years.

“The (NOAA) Annual Greenhouse Gas Index shows that from 1990 to 2022, the warming effect on our climate called radiative forcing by long-lived greenhouse gases increased by 49%, with CO2 accounting for about 78% of this increase,” WMO said.

Greenhouse gas emissions increased by 1.2% from 2021 to 2022. (CREDIT: AFP)
Greenhouse gas emissions increased by 1.2% from 2021 to 2022. (CREDIT: AFP)

The Emissions Gap Report also highlighted the unequal distribution of emissions globally. It said that 10% of the population with the highest income accounted for nearly half (48%) of the emissions. Two-thirds of this group lived in developed countries, similar to the findings of a Climate Central analysis a few days before. “The bottom 50% of the world population contributed to only 12% of total emissions,” the report said.

Nearly 80% of historical CO2 emissions came from G20 countries, with the largest contributions from China, the US and the European Union. The least developed countries contributed 4%.

The US accounts for 4% of the current world population, but contributed 17% of global warming from 1850 to 2021, including the impact of methane and nitrous oxide emissions. India, by contrast, accounts for 18% of the world population, but contributed 5% of warming, the report said.

And yet, governments still plan to produce more than double the amount of fossil fuels in 2030 than would be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C, a separate report, The Production Gap, said on November 11.

An assessment of the stated strategies of 20 major fossil fuel producers, including India, revealed that they plan to produce around 110% more in 2030 than would be consistent with limiting the warming to 1.5°C, and 69% more than would be consistent with 2°C.

If the emissions continue at the current pace, “the world could exceed the remaining emissions budget compatible with a 50% chance of limiting warming to 1.5C by 2030”, the report said in a more alarming warning.

“Major producer countries have pledged to achieve net-zero emissions and launched initiatives to reduce emissions from fossil fuel production, but none have committed to reduce coal, oil, and gas production in line with limiting warming to 1.5°C,” the report, by Stockholm Environment Institute, The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), United Nations Environment Programme among others, stated.

The findings of the report were synonymous with the latest projections by the International Energy Agency, which said that oil and gas demand is expected to peak by 2030 under current policies.

IEA’s “The Oil and Gas Industry in Net Zero Transitions” urged the industry to align with Paris goals, warned of a peak in demand by 2030, and a potential 45% demand drop by 2050 in all of the pledges stated by countries are fulfilled.

The International Energy Agency warned of a peak in oil and gas demand by 2030. (CREDIT: AFP)
The International Energy Agency warned of a peak in oil and gas demand by 2030. (CREDIT: AFP)

“In a pathway to reaching net zero emissions by mid-century, which is necessary to keep the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 °C within reach, oil and gas use would decline by more than 75% by 2050,” the report said.

To align with a 1.5°C scenario, emissions need to be cut by more than 60% by 2030 from today’s levels, and emissions intensity of oil and gas operations must be near zero by the early 2040s — something that appears very far from being reality, going by current trends.

“The oil and gas industry is facing a moment of truth at COP28 in Dubai. With the world suffering the impacts of a worsening climate crisis, continuing with business as usual is neither socially nor environmentally responsible,” IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said with the release of the report.

But, the countries are falling grossly short of meeting their goals and stated plans to deal with the crisis.

The UN’s NDC Synthesis report released on November 14 said that even if the latest NDCs are implemented, emissions will still rise by about 8.8% when compared to 2010 levels.

The UN’s NDC Synthesis report released on November 14 said that even if the latest NDCs are implemented, emissions will still rise by about 8.8% when compared to 2010 levels. (CREDIT: AFP )
The UN’s NDC Synthesis report released on November 14 said that even if the latest NDCs are implemented, emissions will still rise by about 8.8% when compared to 2010 levels. (CREDIT: AFP )

This was a “marginal improvement” over the 2022 assessment which found that countries were on the path to increase emissions by 10.6% by 2030.

The UN Secretary-General António Guterres called out the countries for “failing to get a grip”.

“As the reality of climate chaos pounds communities around the world – with ever fiercer floods, fires and droughts – the chasm between need and action is more menacing than ever,” he said in a statement that yet again was high on rhetoric, but will probably fail to spur action.

 

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Tannu Jain works with HT's Page 1 team. She writes on the environment and climate change, with a focus on implications at the local and global levels. She is also the author of Cause and Effect, a weekly column for HT Premium.

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