At the current rate, in just 11 years, humans will have released into the atmosphere all the carbon that can be released - in the form of greenhouse gases - to stop global warming by 1.5ºC by the end of the century. That is the situation left by the rebound in CO2 emissions in 2021 and the gap that must be closed at the Glasgow COP, as scientists have warned.
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The 1.5ºC limit has become the main objective, at least public. Leaving Glasgow with the still certain possibility of containing the rise in global temperature along this line is one of the fundamental tasks of COP26. "We must focus our attention on maintaining 1.5 degrees"asked naturalist David Attenborough, at the inauguration of the summit. Even the G20 countries - responsible for 80% of global emissions - pledged on day one of the COP to set that warming ceiling.
The calculations released this Thursday by the Global Carbon Project show that the budget of carbon available to have the possibility of keeping the global temperature below the limits established in the Paris Agreement - the safety margins - "have been reduced". After the 2020 emissions drop due to COVID-19, this year it is taking a bigger bite out of that budget.
The point is that, to curb overheating at 1.5; 1.7 or 2ºC at the end of the century, there is an approximate volume of carbon that can be added to the atmosphere. After all the amount of gases already released and lodged, there remains an amount that scientists call the carbon budget. As CO2 emissions have not been curbed for years and have recovered pace this year, that amount is reduced. It goes from 420 Gigatons (Gt) for the most demanding threshold to 1,250 Gt for the more permissive scenario of the two extra degrees.
Only since 2015, when the world agreed that it was necessary to stop climate change by limiting the warming caused by greenhouse gases, emissions continued to grow, spending more budget each year. Only the acute year of the pandemic reversed the escalation. Not anymore.
The numbers estimated by this international group of researchers from the Universities of Exeter, East Anglia and Stanford as well as the Cicero Center for Climate Research in Oslo, say that, at this year's level of emissions, that budget will have been spent within 11 years for the 1.5 ºC limit, in 20 years for the 1.7ºC threshold and 32 years for the 2ºC threshold.
Therefore, keeping the Earth within that budget, and for a longer period of time, therefore forces to cut the volume of CO2 released. The UN calculated in 2019 that the reduction should be 50% by 2030. "Reaching the goal of net zero emissions in 2050 implies reducing by 1.4 Gigatons each year" which shows "the magnitude of the necessary action", illustrate the authors, who insist that "the rebound in emissions as the Economies recovering from pandemic reinforces the need for an immediate response "in Glasgow.
As has already been known before starting the negotiations at COP26, the climate plans updated this year by the parties they have an aggregate effect of increasing emissions by 16% compared to 2010 by the end of the decade. The temperature would thus go to an extra 2.7ºC. That is the gap.
And that is the volume of gases that Humanity can afford to save "the margins of safety that we are willing to admit", as defined by the Spanish Office for Climate Change. Global warming already exists and is going to increase to some extent. Consequences of that warming, which alters the climate, too. Limiting the rise in temperature would cushion the impacts of extreme phenomena, rising sea levels or the disappearance of glaciers.
"The rebound in emissions from fossil fuels reflects a return to the pre-COVID economy based on those fuels" concludes this prospect. The data supports this assertion: the CO2 that causes the use of oil goes up, although it remains below the pre-COVID level, coal is approaching that threshold and gas - a crucial agent in the rampant rise in the wholesale price of electricity in Spain and Europe - is heading towards its historical maximum of emissions. "The combined CO2 of gas and coal is on track to exceed in 2021 the volume of decline of 2020."
Who are returning to those patterns? Well, looking at the breakdown by countries, especially the most polluting, almost the entire world. By the end of this year, China is projected to have released 4% more gases, the US 7.6% more (after falling 10% last year) and the European Union another 7.6% increase (its fall in 2020 it was 10.6%). India is also going to increase its level of emissions by 12%.
"A further increase in 2022 cannot be ruled out if road transport and aviation return to the pre-pandemic type of activity," these scientists analyze.