The UN says cutting emissions ‘nowhere near as much’ is necessary to avert climate catastrophe


The amount of methane in the atmosphere is racing at an accelerating pace, according to a study by the World Meteorological Organization, threatening to undermine efforts to slow climate change.

The WMO Greenhouse Gas Bulletin stated that “global emissions have rebounded since the COVID-related shutdowns” and that increases in methane levels in 2020 and 2021 were the largest since systematic record-keeping began in 1983.

“Methane concentrations are not only rising, they are rising faster than ever before,” said Rob Jackson, professor of Earth system sciences at Stanford University.

The study comes on the same day that a new United Nations report was released that says that the world’s governments have not committed to this Reduce enough carbon emissionsputting the world on track to increase global temperatures by 2.5°C (4.5°F) by the end of the century.

The analysis said that the level of emissions implied Countries’ new commitments It was a little lower than it was a year ago, but still results in a full degree of temperature increase beyond the target level set at the most recent climate peaks. To avoid the more catastrophic consequences of climate change, scientists say, humanity must limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.

“Government decisions and actions must reflect the level of urgency, the gravity of the threats we face, and the short time we have left to avoid the devastating consequences of runaway climate change,” said Simon Steele, Executive Secretary of the United Nations. Climate Change Secretariat. “We are still far from the required range and pace of emissions cuts.”

Instead, the UN report finds that the world is headed toward a future of unbearable heat, escalating weather disasters, collapsing ecosystems and spreading hunger and disease.

“It is a bleak, terrible and incomprehensible picture,” Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, said of the current trajectory of global warming. “This picture is not just a picture that we cannot accept.”

The fastest way to influence 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 period of 20 years. The World Meteorological Organization said the amount of methane in the atmosphere jumped 15 parts per billion in 2020 and 18 parts per billion in 2021.

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Scientists are studying whether unusually large increases in atmospheric methane levels in 2020 and 2021 are caused by “climate feedbacks” from nature-based sources such as tropical wetlands and rice fields or whether they are caused by man-made natural gas and industrial leak. or both.

The methane emitted from fossil sources contains more of the carbon-13 isotope than that from wetlands or livestock.

“Isotope data indicates that it is biological methane and not fossil methane from the gas leak,” Jackson said. “It may even be the beginning of a dangerous global warming acceleration in methane emissions from wetlands and other natural systems that we have been concerned about for decades,” Jackson cautioned.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) states that as the planet warms, organic matter decomposes faster. If organic matter decomposes in water – without oxygen – this leads to methane emissions. This process can feed on itself; If tropical wetlands become wetter and warmer, more emissions are possible.

Will warming fuel warming tropical wetlands? Jackson asked. “We don’t know yet.”

“We’re not seeing any increase” in methane from fossil sources, said Antoine Halfe, senior analyst and co-founder of Kayross, which conducts an extensive analysis of satellite data. He said some countries such as Australia have reduced their emissions while others such as Algeria have worsened.

A World Meteorological Organization study said levels of two other major greenhouse gases in the atmosphere – carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide – also reached record levels in 2021. “The increase in carbon dioxide levels from 2020 to 2021 was greater than the average,” it said. annual growth rate over the past decade.

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

WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said the report “emphasized once again the enormous challenge – and vital necessity – of urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prevent global temperatures from rising further in the future”.

Like others, Talas urged the pursuit of inexpensive technologies for capturing short-lived methane, especially when it comes to capturing natural gas. Because of its relatively short life, he said, methane’s effect on climate is reversible.

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

The World Meteorological Organization also noted the warming of the oceans and land as well as the atmosphere. “Of the total emissions from human activities during the period 2011-2020, about 48 percent accumulated in the atmosphere, 26 percent in the ocean and 29 percent on land,” the report said.

The WMO report comes shortly before the COP27 climate conference in Egypt next month. Last year, in the run-up to the climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, the United States and the European Union took the lead in strengthening the global pledge on methane, which set a goal of achieving a 30 percent reduction in the atmosphere by 2030. They estimate That it could shave 0.2 degrees Celsius from the warming that would otherwise occur. So far, 122 countries have signed the pledge.

White House negotiator John F. Kerry said that in the US-China joint declaration issued in Glasgow, China pledged to release an “ambitious plan” for this year’s climate summit that would move to reduce methane pollution. However, that has not happened yet, and China has not issued an updated “NDC” or nationally determined contributions in the language of the United Nations.

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

“To keep this goal alive, national governments need to strengthen their climate action plans now and implement them in the next eight years,” he said.

However, the US is also among the vast majority of countries that have not updated their NDCs this year, something all countries promised when the Glasgow Summit ended one year ago.

The UN report found that only 24 countries made new pledges in the past 12 months – and the few updated commitments represented a tangible improvement over their earlier promises. Australia has made the most significant changes to its national climate target, which has not previously been updated since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015.

Postcards from the future of our climate

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Altogether, the 193 combined climate pledges made since Paris would increase emissions by 10.6 percent by 2030, compared to 2010 levels. The United Nations said this reflected a slight improvement over last year’s assessment, which found countries were on a path Increase emissions by 13.7 percent by 2030, compared to 2010 levels.

But countries must reduce their carbon production to about 45 percent of their levels in 2010 to avoid a rise in temperatures afterward. 1.5°C (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) – a threshold at which scientists say humanity can avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change.

And just under half of the countries have submitted long-term plans to reduce their emissions to zero. The UN report found that if these countries kept their promises, global emissions in the middle of the century could be 64 percent lower than they are now. Scientists say these cuts could keep temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), bringing humanity somewhat closer to tolerable levels of warming.

“But it’s not really clear if the countries will actually succeed,” warned Joyeri Rugeli, a climate scientist at Imperial College London who specializes in pathways to global warming.

He noted that there are major contradictions between countries’ short-term commitments on climate and their long-term plans. For most countries, the emissions trajectories suggested by the NDCs would make it nearly impossible to achieve the net-zero target by mid-century.

Andersen said the UN findings underscore a simple and sobering truth: In waiting so long for action on climate change, humanity has denied itself the opportunity to make a slow and orderly transition to a safer and more sustainable future. Countries must constantly advance their ambitions, rather than making modest pledges to cut carbon that are updated every five years. No country can rest so easily until each country eliminates greenhouse gas emissions and restores natural systems that could pull carbon from the atmosphere, she said.

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

Chris Mooney contributed reporting

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