March 5, 2021

Earth is still on track to warm three degrees this century


Tackling the climate crisis requires a sustained global effort. Little consolations are of no use. The brief drop in CO2 emissions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is hardly going to alleviate the alteration of the climate: the economic halt to contain the coronavirus translates into 0.01 ° C less temperature by 2030. The Earth continues thus its path towards a 3 ºC overheating at the end of the century, according to the UN calculations that were known this Wednesday.

The 2015 Paris Agreement against climate change set the tolerable limit at an increase in global temperature of less than 2ºC and better yet, leave it at 1.5ºC. A warmer world brings a battery of known consequences that are already being suffered: sea ​​level rises, thaw, torrential rains, floods, fires, heat and cold waves, less food production, water shortages, climatic refugees …

But the gap between actual greenhouse gas emissions and what should be happening to meet those targets remains very wide. “It has not narrowed in 2019 and has not been affected by COVID-19,” concluded the technicians of the UN Environment Program who review the volume of CO2 released into the atmosphere compared to the appropriate path to contain climate change.

In 2019, a historical record of 59 gigatons of greenhouse gases released into the air was reached, which bind to all the gases that are already acting in the atmosphere and that will prolong their effect for decades and centuries. The confinements and stops to quell the expansion of the new coronavirus have slowed down the economy and led to a reduction of approximately 7% in global emissions. This is an isolated cut since, until the explosion of the disease, three maximum peaks had been chained after the “brief falls of 2015 and 2016”, as the report emphasizes.

The stoppage only removes 0.01 degrees for the middle of the century

The result is that this short-term stoppage will hardly be noticeable in the middle of the century: 0.01 ºC less when at that point, at the current rate, the planet will already be 1.5 ºC above the pre-industrial era, in the path towards those 3 ºC. The UN explains that this cyclical drop will not have a significant effect in containing the rise in Earth’s temperature unless countries implement a “strong decarbonization” in their economic recovery plans after the COVID-pandemic. 19.

This week marks the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement. It is time for evaluation. And the exams are not going well. The review that the UN has made of the national plans submitted to comply with this joint commitment shows that the states continue to fall short. Their combined effects project a future with Earth overheated by more than three degrees. Emissions should be 15 Gt less than national plans imply to limit to 2ºC and 32 Gt for the 1.5ºC target.

With that panorama on the table and in view of the numbers, countries, globally, must double their current efforts to reduce emissions to comply with the Paris Agreement and limit global warming. In order to stop it at 1.5ºC, they must be multiplied by five. Each year that is not fulfilled makes it more difficult to save the climate crisis in the time that remains before exceeding critical or even irreversible thresholds: failure to meet the 2030 flying goal will make it impossible to contain the global warming in 2100, explains the report. For now 2020 will complete the trident of warmest years ever recorded.

The UN emphasizes that there is also “a great discrepancy” between the long-term plans announced by different states and the commitments for 2030 that they send under the Paris Agreement. There is even “inconsistency” between the emission targets that are set and the projections of what will actually be released into the atmosphere in 2030 “with current policies.”

An optimistic note

However, the document does contain a more hopeful part: there are 126 countries that have ensured that they will achieve zero net CO2 emissions by 2050. What they call “climate neutrality”. This means that the subtraction between what is emitted and what is trapped by “sinks” such as forests, must give zero. That group covers 51% of the entire volume of greenhouse gases currently being released. The achievement, they say, has been that the European Union, Great Britain, China, Japan, South Korea, Argentina, Canada, Mexico or South Africa commit themselves … If the president-elect of the USA, Joe Biden, fulfills his electoral promise to create a A similar strategy would encompass 63% of global emissions.

“Although these announcements are promising, to be credible and achievable, they must urgently be translated into strong policies and actions in the short term,” warn UN analysts. “And that they are reflected in the national plans” that must refer to the Paris Agreement. The appointment for this was at the Climate Summit scheduled for last November in Glasgow (Great Britain) and which has been postponed to 2021.

To weigh the importance of the US joining China or the European Union, we must consider that, in the last decade, the four main emitters: China, the US, the EU (with Great Britain) and India have agglutinated 55% of greenhouse gases from around the planet. If you add Russia, Japan and international transport, they reach 65%. The positions in the world ranking, of course, change a lot if ordered by emissions per inhabitant.

Despite the fact that the fall in CO2 associated with the coronavirus pandemic does not serve to remedy the climate crisis, the UN sees an opportunity: “A green recovery from the pandemic can cut emissions by 25% by 2030 based on forecasts based on pre-COVID-19 policies ”. “The pandemic has been a warning from nature that we must act on climate change, the loss of nature and pollution,” says the organization. In fact, the Intergovernmental Panel for Biodiversity (IPBES) revealed just over a month ago that the same causes behind the climate crisis cause the outbreak of pandemics such as the new coronavirus.

The idea of ​​promoting economic activities and consumption models that avoid releasing gases when burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil or gas to relaunch the economy after the pandemic stoppage “could put global emissions at 44 gigatons”, calculates the UN (in 2019 there have been 59). “That gives us a 66% margin of chance of keeping the temperature below 2ºC,” they say.

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