If the world does not do more to limit greenhouse gas emissions soon, the final slender hope of preventing global temperature rise being much above 2°C will slip away. Carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and industry are set to rise sharply this year, after remaining stable for the past three years.
“This is really not good news,” says Corinne Le Quéré, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in the UK, who led the research by the Global Carbon Project.
The findings are yet more evidence that, despite the 2015 Paris agreement, the world is still not doing nearly enough to limit emissions.
Yet there is wide agreement on what needs to be done: introducing a meaningful price on carbon.
“We need to cost the negative effects of carbon into the activities that produce it,” says Le Quéré.
The cost of carbon
“A carbon price is absolutely essential,” economist Nicholas Stern told a meeting in London organized by the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures earlier this month. “We may be on a path to 3°C. The risks are enormous.”
The biggest global obstacle to investment in clean growth is governments’ failure to pursue clear, credible and predictable policies, Stern said. A well-designed carbon price is an indispensable part of any strategy for efficiently reducing emissions.
The European Union does have a carbon trading scheme, but it has produced a low and erratic carbon price – which doesn’t incentivize cutting emissions. The scheme has been close to meaningless, says Wendel Trio of Climate Action Network Europe. Reforms announced last week won’t change this.
“What businesses want to know is that the price of carbon is going to be high and that the price will increase,” says Le Quéré.
Le Quéré’s team previously found that from 2014 to 2016, emissions from fossil fuels and industry remained flat despite continuing economic growth. This led some to hope that global emissions had peaked, although many experts warned it was too early to tell.
Now fossil fuel and industry emissions are projected to rise 2 percent in 2017, to a record 37 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide. Whether emissions will continue to rise in the coming years or flatten out again is not clear, says Le Quéré. “We can’t say what trajectory is going to be realized.”
Additional CO2 has been emitted by the burning of rainforests to clear land for things like palm oil plantations. Total CO2 emissions in 2017, including these land use changes, are projected to be 41 gigatonnes of CO2.
The team did not look at other greenhouse gases like methane, levels of which have been rising rapidly. But according to a recent report by the UN Environment Programme, total greenhouse emissions have been above 50 gigatonnes a year since 2011.
Driven by economics
The changes in fossil fuel emissions are largely due to China, which now produces a third of all CO2 emissions, says team member Glen Peters of the Center for International Climate Research in Oslo. Global emissions flattened when China’s boom came to an end. Now its growth is picking up again.
Emissions from other developing countries, including India, are also rising, while emissions in the EU and US have only fallen slightly. “I don’t think there is enough policy momentum to get emissions to go down,” says Peters.
He expects global emissions to remain broadly flat, rather than continuing to rise. However, to halt the growth in atmospheric CO2, net emissions have to fall to zero. As for the Paris aim of limiting warming to 2°C, this requires ever more implausible rates of emissions reductions: over 5 percent every year.
“Once we get above about 2°C of warming relative to the pre-industrial – and we’re not that far away from it now – we see some of the worst and potentially irreversible changes in climate,” says climatologist Michael Mann of Penn State University. “And they’re not just incremental. They’re not just a nuisance. We are talking about a fundamental threat to our way of life.”
Source & Credits: New Scientist