Scientists projected on Wednesday that global carbon dioxide emissions had reached the highest levels ever recorded, revealing the gap between international climate change targets and what countries actually do.
Between 2014 and 2016, emissions remained virtually unchanged, giving hope that the world is beginning to take a turn. These hopes were dashed. In 2017, global emissions increased by 1.6%. The increase in 2018 should be 2.7%.
The expected increase, which would bring fossil fuel and industrial emissions to a record 37.1 billion tons of carbon dioxide a year, is fueled by emissions growth of nearly 5% in China and more in India, according to researchers, as well as growth in many other countries of the world. US emissions increased by 2.5%, while those of the European Union decreased by just under 1%.
As nations gathered for climate talks in Poland, the message of Wednesday's report was unambiguous: when it comes to promises to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that fuel climate change, the world is still alive and well. target.
"We have problems. We have serious problems with climate change, "said United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres this week at the opening of the 24th annual United Nations Climate Conference, where countries will fight to achieve the ambitious goals to achieve to significantly reduce carbon emissions in the coming years. .
"It is difficult to exaggerate the urgency of our situation," he added. "Although we are witnessing devastating climate impacts, wreaking havoc around the world, we are still not doing enough, or moving fast enough to prevent irreversible and catastrophic climate change."
Guterres did not specifically comment on Wednesday's findings, which were published in a trio of scientific papers by researchers at the Global Carbon Project. But his remarks came amidst a litany of bad news in the fall, during which scientists warned that the effects of climate change are no longer distant and hypothetical, and that the effects of global warming will only intensify in the absence of aggressive international action.
In October, a high-level scientific group backed by the United States revealed that countries had barely a decade to go.unprecedented "and halve their emissions by 2030 to prevent the adverse consequences of climate change. The report of the panel of experts revealed "no documented historical precedent" as to the rapid changes in the company's infrastructure that would be required to contain the warming at only 1.5 ° C (2). , 7 ° F) above pre-industrial levels.
The day after Thanksgiving, the Trump government released a nearly 1,700-page report co-authored by hundreds of scientists who discovered that climate change was already causing increasing damage in the United States. This report was closely followed by another report detailing the growing gap between commitments made at previous UN conferences and what is needed to divert the world from its disastrous path.
Coupled with Wednesday's findings, this tide of discouraging news has considerably weakened international climate talks in Poland, which began this week and are due to run until December 14th.
Negotiators face the difficult task of bridging the gap between promises made in Paris in 2015 and what is needed to control dangerous levels of warming – a first step, hopefully, towards more aggressive action in favor of climate change. climate change starting in 2020. Leaders at the conference are also trying to put in place a process for countries to measure and report their greenhouse gas emissions to the rest of the world over the next few years.
But while most countries remain firmly committed to the notion of combating climate change, many countries are not up to par with their relatively modest promises in Paris. The Trump administration continued to lower environmental regulations and insist that it end the Paris agreement by 2020. Brazil, which was struggling to curb deforestation, elected to In the autumn President Jair Bolsonaro, who is committed to cancel the protections granted to the Amazon. .
The most important emissions story in 2018, however, seems to be China, the world's largest emitter, whose global greenhouse gas production has increased by nearly half a billion tonnes, estimated the researchers. (The United States is the world's second largest emitter.)
The sudden and significant increase in carbon emissions in the country could be linked to a more general downturn in the economy, environment analysts said.
"Under the pressure of the current economic downturn, some local governments may have relaxed monitoring of air pollution and carbon emissions," said Yang Fuqiang, energy advisor to the Natural Resources Defense Council, a US environmental organization.
The Chinese planning agency said on Wednesday that three regions – Liaoning in northeast Rust Belt and major coal-producing regions of Ningxia and Xinjiang in the north-west – had not achieved their goals of reducing poverty. growth in energy consumption and improve their efficiency last year.
But Yang said that these areas were not representative of the whole country and that China was generally on the right track. "There is still a lot of work to be done in terms of pollution control and emissions reduction, but we expect to see more ambitions in central government plans and actions," he said.
Such changes – in all major emitting countries – must happen quickly.
Scientists said annual carbon dioxide emissions were expected to fall by nearly half by 2030 if the world wanted to achieve the most stringent – and the safest – climate change goal. This would either keep the Earth warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius – when it is already at 1 degree – or only "exceed" that temperature briefly.
But emissions are much too high to limit warming to such an extent. And instead of falling dramatically, they keep climbing.
Wednesday's research clearly shows the intimidating calculations behind the fundamental change that scientists believe is necessary. While some countries continue to increase their emissions and some reduce them, overall, there are always more additions than subtractions.
"We do not see a decline in rich countries that exceeds that of other regions of the world," said Rob Jackson, a researcher at Stanford University, who contributed to research under the Global Carbon Project.
The problem of reducing emissions is that it leads to difficult choices in the real world. A growing global economy is inevitably fueling increased energy demand. And different countries are increasing their emissions – or failing to reduce them – for different reasons.
"India provides electricity and energy to hundreds of millions of people who do not have it yet," said Jackson. "It's very different from China, where the use of coal is increasing again, in part because of slower economic growth. They announce projects on coal that have been put on hold. "
The researchers noted that global emissions continued to grow, even though renewable energy sources were growing. It's just that they are still far too small as sources of energy.
"Solar and wind energy is doing well, it is doing very well," said Glen Peters, director of the Center for International Climate Research in Oslo and author of the Global Carbon project. "But in China and India, solar and wind energy is just responding to the new demand. You could say that if you did not have solar or wind, the emissions could be higher. But the solar and the wind are far from big enough to replace fossil fuels. "
The figures provided by the researchers are an estimate based on available data from the energy and cement industry for the first nine months of the year, and projections based on economic and social trends. the amount of carbon emitted by different countries. The estimated growth may change slightly, said Jackson. The final number may range from 1.8% to 3.7%. Be that as it may, there is no doubt that 2018 will have reached a record for global emissions.
In the United States, emissions in 2018 are expected to have increased 2.5%, partly under the effect of a very hot summer resulting in high use of air conditioning and a very cold winter. in the north-east of the country, but also through continued use of oil. low prices for gasoline and larger cars. US emissions have slowed, with coal-fired power plants being replaced by natural gas and renewables, but this has been halted this year, at least temporarily. In Europe, cars have also been a major factor in reducing emissions slower than expected.
As for China, coal represents about 60% of China's total energy consumption, but the government hopes to reduce it to 10% by 2050.
Thanks to increased investment in green energy, China's carbon intensity, or the amount of carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP, has decreased by 46% by 2017 compared to 2005, announced the Ministry of Ecology and Environment earlier this week. It had been expected that it would take until 2020 to reach the 40 to 45% reduction target.
"With these goals achieved, a very solid foundation has been laid to halt the increase in carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, and even to achieve it sooner than expected," said Xie Zhenhua. , China's special representative for climate change affairs. the Xinhua state news agency before the meeting in Poland.
China will remain resolute and active in the fight against climate change and the implementation of the Paris agreement, said Xie.
Officials and analysts point out that the US is not doing its part to fight global warming. "We would also like to see the United States assume its responsibilities by coming back to the Paris climate agreement," said NRDC's Yang.
Despite the enormous challenges ahead, Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, has great hopes for negotiations in Poland.
"I am optimistic because of human nature," Espinosa said in an interview. She suspects that the series of bad news on the climate could have caused a kind of turning point, when companies begin to demand aggressive actions from their leaders to avoid the most disastrous effects of climate change.
"I think we have sort of reached the limit," she said. "When we get closer to the limit, I think we need to come up with something more creative, more ambitious, stronger and more daring."
Lyric Li contributed to this story from Beijing.