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

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According to a study by the World Meteorological Organization, the amount of methane in the atmosphere is increasing at a rapid pace, threatening to undermine efforts to slow climate change.

The WMO’s Greenhouse Gas Bulletin said that “global emissions have accelerated since the COVID-related lockdowns” and that the increase in methane levels in 2020 and 2021 is the highest since systematic record-keeping began in 1983. was bigger than

“Methane isn’t just increasing, it’s increasing faster than ever,” said Rob Jackson, a professor of Earth system science at Stanford University.

The study comes on the same day that a new United Nations report says that the world’s governments have not committed to reducing carbon emissions, which could put the world at 2.5 degrees Celsius (4.5 degrees Fahrenheit) will increase by the end. century

Emissions levels from countries’ new pledges were slightly lower than a year ago but would still lead to an overall increase in temperatures above the target levels set at recent climate summits, the analysis said. Scientists say that to avoid the most catastrophic consequences of climate change, humanity must limit temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).

“Government decisions and actions must reflect the urgency, the magnitude of the threats we face, and the shortness of time we have to avoid the catastrophic consequences of climate change,” said UN Executive Secretary Simon Steele. Climate Change Secretariat. “We’re still nowhere near the scale and pace of emissions reduction.”

Instead, the U.N. report found, the world is moving toward a future of unsustainable warming, increasing weather disasters, collapsing ecosystems and widespread hunger and disease.

“It’s a depressing, terrifying, incomprehensible picture,” Inger Andersen, executive director of the United Nations Environment Program, said of the world’s current warming trajectory. “That image is just not an image we can accept.”

The fastest way to affect the pace of global warming would be to reduce methane emissions, the second largest contributor to climate change. It has 80 times the warming effect of carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. The amount of methane in the atmosphere increased by 15 parts per billion in 2020 and 18 parts per billion in 2021, the WMO said.

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

Methane emitted from fossil sources contains more of the carbon-13 isotope produced by wetlands or livestock.

“The isotope data suggests it’s biological rather than fossil methane from gas emissions. It could be from agriculture,” Jackson said. “It could also be the start of a dangerous warming-induced acceleration in methane emissions from wetlands and other natural systems that we’ve worried about for decades,” he warned.

As the planet warms, organic matter decomposes faster, the WMO said. If organic material decomposes in water – without oxygen – it leads to methane emissions. This process can feed itself; Higher emissions are possible if tropical wetlands become wetter and warmer.

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

“We see no increase” in methane from fossil sources, said Anton Hoff, chief analyst and co-founder of Kairos, a firm that analyzes extensive satellite data. Some countries like Australia have reduced emissions while others like Algeria have done worse, he said.

Atmospheric levels of the other two main greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide – also reached record highs in 2021, the WMO study said: “From 2020 to 2021, the increase in carbon dioxide levels compared to the previous I was larger than the average annual growth rate. decade.”

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

WMO Secretary-General Petri Talas said the report “once again highlights the enormous challenge—and the critical need—for urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prevent future global temperature increases.” has been identified.”

Like others, Taalas has pushed for cheaper techniques to capture short-lived methane, especially when it comes to natural gas. Because of its relatively young age, methane’s “impact on climate is irreversible,” he said.

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

The WMO also pointed to the warming of the oceans and land as well as the atmosphere. “About 48 percent of total emissions from human activities during 2011-2020 were deposited 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, at a climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, the United States and the European Union took the lead in promoting the Global Methane Pledge, which set a goal of reaching a 30 percent reduction in the atmosphere by 2030. . It is estimated that the increase in temperature could reduce 0.2 degree Celsius of what would otherwise occur. So far 122 countries have signed the pledge.

White House climate negotiator John F. Kerry said that in a US-China joint statement issued in Glasgow, China pledged to release “an ambitious plan” for this year’s climate summit that would include its Methane pollution will go a long way. However, this has not yet happened and China has yet to issue an updated “Nationally Determined Contribution” or NDC in the language of the United Nations.

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

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

Yet the United States is among the majority of countries that have not updated their NDCs this year, which all countries promised at the end of the Glasgow summit a year ago.

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

Postcards from our climate future

Overall, the combined 193 post-Paris climate commitments would increase emissions by 10.6 percent by 2030, compared to 2010 levels. The United Nations said this reflected a slight improvement from last year’s assessment, which found that countries were on track to increase emissions by 13.7 percent by 2030 compared to 2010 levels.

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But nations must cut their carbon output to about 45 percent of 2010 levels to avoid warming of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) — a threshold at which scientists say human-caused climate change is likely. can avoid the most destructive effects of

Even less than half of the countries have presented long-term plans to reduce their emissions to zero. If these countries follow through on their commitments, according to the United Nations report, global emissions could be 64 percent lower than they were by mid-century. Scientists say these cuts could keep temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), bringing humanity closer to a tolerable temperature range.

“But it’s not really clear whether countries will actually give up,” warned Jori Rojelj, a climate scientist at Imperial College London who specializes in global warming pathways.

He noted that there are huge discrepancies between nations’ near-term climate commitments and their long-term plans. For most countries, the pace of emissions through their NDCs will make it nearly impossible to achieve the goal of net zero by the middle of this century.

Anderson said: The UN findings highlight a simple sobering reality: By waiting so long to act on climate change, humanity has denied itself the opportunity to make a slow and orderly transition to a safer and more sustainable future. have done. Instead of making modest carbon reduction commitments, countries should continually reinforce their ambitions that are updated every five years. He said that no nation can rest at ease until every country ends global warming emissions and restores natural systems that can remove carbon from the atmosphere.

“We need to see more and more quickly,” he said. “Today you draw and tomorrow you draw and the day after tomorrow you draw.”

Chris Mooney contributed to this report.

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