Nations ‘nowhere near’ emissions cuts needed to avoid climate disaster, U.N. says

Opinion

Methane levels in the atmosphere are racing ahead at an accelerated rate, according to a study by the World Meteorological Organization, threatening to undermine efforts to reduce climate change.

According to the WMO’s Greenhouse Gas Bulletin, “global emissions have rebounded since the introduction of the Covid-related lockdowns” and the increase in methane levels in 2020 and 2021 is the largest since systematic record-keeping began in 1983.

“Methane levels are not only increasing, they’re increasing faster than ever before,” said Rob Jackson, a professor of Earth system science at Stanford University.

The study comes on the day of a new United Nations report that says the world’s governments have not committed enough to reduce carbon emissions, which could eventually increase global temperatures by 2.5 degrees Celsius (4.5 degrees Fahrenheit). Century.

The analysis said the emissions set by countries’ new pledges were slightly lower than a year ago, but would still lead to a full-scale increase in temperatures above the target levels set at recent climate summits. Scientists say humans must limit temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

UN Secretary-General Simon Steele said: “Government decisions and actions must reflect the level of urgency, the severity of the threats we face and the shortness of time left to avoid the worst consequences of runaway climate change.” Office of Climate Change. “We’re still not getting anywhere at the required rate and rate of emissions reductions.”

Instead, according to the UN report, the world is facing a future of unsustainable heat, climate disasters, ecosystem destruction and the spread of hunger and disease.

Inger Andersen, director general of the United Nations Environment Program, said of the current global warming: “This is a terrible, terrible and incomprehensible picture. “This image is not an image we can accept.”

The fastest way to slow the pace of global warming is to reduce emissions of methane, the second largest contributor to climate change. It has a warming effect 80 times greater than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. The WMO predicts that the amount of methane in the atmosphere will rise by 15 billion by 2020 and by 18 billion by 2021.

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Scientists in the year They are studying whether the unusually large increase in atmospheric methane levels in 2020 and 2021 is the result of a “climate feedback” from natural sources such as tropical wetlands and rice paddies, or man-made natural gas emissions. and industrial spills. Or both.

Methane from fossil fuels has a higher carbon-13 isotope than that produced from wetlands or livestock.

“Isotope data suggest that methane from gas vents is biological rather than fossil. “It could be from agriculture,” Jackson said. “It could be the start of dangerous warming from methane emissions from wetlands and other natural systems that we’ve worried about for decades,” he warned.

According to the WMO, as the planet warms, organic matter decomposes faster. If organic matter decomposes in water – without oxygen – this leads to the release of methane. This process can feed itself; If tropical wetlands are wetter and warmer, there may be more emissions.

“Does warming feed heat in tropical wetlands?” Jackson asked. “We don’t know yet.”

“We’re not seeing any increase” in methane from fossil fuels, said Antoine Half, chief analyst and co-founder of Kairos, a company that analyzes satellite data widely. Some countries, such as Australia, have reduced emissions, while others, such as Algeria, have increased, he said.

Atmospheric levels of the other two main greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide – will peak in 2021, the WMO study said: “The increase in carbon dioxide levels from 2020 to 2021 will exceed the average annual growth rate of the past.” decade”

In 2021, carbon dioxide levels were 415.7 parts per million (or ppm), methane at 1908 parts per billion (ppb), and nitrous oxide at 334.5 ppb. These values ​​represent 149 percent, 262 percent, and 124 percent of pre-industrial levels, respectively.

WMO Secretary-General Petri Thalas said the report “reiterates the biggest challenge – and the need – to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and take urgent action to prevent global warming”.

Like many others, Talas urged the pursuit of less expensive techniques for short-lived methane capture, particularly in the case of natural gas. Because of its relatively short life span, methane’s “impact on climate can be reversed,” he said.

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“The changes required are economically feasible and technically feasible. Time is running out,” he said.

WMO also indicates the temperature of the oceans and land as well as the atmosphere. “Over the period 2011-2020, 48 percent of total emissions from human activities were deposited in the atmosphere, 26 percent in the oceans, and 29 percent on land,” the report said.

The WMO report comes just ahead of next month’s COP27 climate conference in Egypt. Last year in Glasgow, Scotland, the United States and the European Union led the climate conference to introduce the Global Methane Pledge, which set a goal of reducing atmospheric emissions by 30 percent by 2030. It could shave 0.2 degrees Celsius off the potential rise in temperature otherwise. So far, 122 countries have signed the pledge.

White House climate negotiator John F. Kerry said at the US-China joint statement in Glasgow that China has pledged to come up with a major plan to reduce methane pollution at this year’s climate summit. So far, that hasn’t happened, and China still hasn’t issued an up-to-date “nationally determined contribution” or NDC to the United Nations.

“We look forward to an updated 2030 NDC from China that accelerates CO2 reductions and offsets all greenhouse gases,” Kerry said.

“To sustain this goal, national governments must strengthen their climate action plans now and implement them over the next eight years,” he said.

However, the United States is also among the largest number of countries that have not updated their NDCs this year, something all countries pledged to do when the Glasgow summit ended a year ago.

In the past 12 months, 24 countries have submitted new pledges – and some of the revised pledges represent a meaningful improvement over their previous pledges, according to the UN report. Australia has made significant changes to its national climate goals, which have not been updated since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015.

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Our climate future postcards

In total, the 193 climate commitments made since Paris call for a 10.6 percent increase in emissions by 2030, compared to 2010 levels. This showed a slight improvement in the assessment carried out last year, which stated that countries are on track to increase emissions by 13.7 percent by 2030, compared to the level of 2010, according to the United Nations.

But to avoid 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) of warming, countries must cut their carbon emissions to 45 percent of 2010 levels — a level that scientists say would avoid the worst effects of human-induced climate change.

Less than half of the countries have proposed a long-term plan to reduce emissions to zero. If these countries keep their promises, the United Nations report suggests, global emissions could be 64 percent lower by mid-century than they are now. Scientists predict these reductions could keep temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), bringing humans closer to tolerable temperature levels.

“But it’s not clear whether countries will actually avoid it,” said Jory Rogelj, a climate scientist at Imperial College London who focuses on global warming pathways.

He also pointed out that there are significant differences between governments’ recent climate commitments and their long-term plans. For most countries, the emission trajectories under their NDCs make it almost impossible to reach a net zero target by mid-century.

The findings of the United Nations emphasize a simple worrying fact, according to Andersson: by waiting too long to act on climate change, humanity will allow itself to make a slow and orderly transition to a safe and sustainable future. Instead of making modest carbon-cutting pledges that are revised every five years, countries should continually strengthen their ambitions. No nation can rest easy until any country cuts planet-warming emissions and restores natural systems to remove carbon from the atmosphere, she said.

“We need to see more and faster,” she said. “Today you stretch and tomorrow you stretch the day after you stretch.”

Chris Mooney contributed to this report.

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