Gi­ant leap back­ward

The Citizen (Gauteng) - - FEATURE -

The car­bon diox­ide emis­sions that drive global warm­ing, flat since 2014, are set to rise two per­cent this year, dash­ing hopes they had peaked, sci­en­tists re­ported at the United Na­tions climate talks on Mon­day. “This is very dis­ap­point­ing,” said Corinne le Quere, di­rec­tor of the Tyn­dall Cen­tre for Climate Change Re­search at the Univer­sity of East Anglia and lead au­thor of a ma­jor study de­tail­ing the find­ings. “With global CO2 emis­sions from hu­man ac­tiv­i­ties es­ti­mated at 41 bil­lion tons for 2017, time is run­ning out on our abil­ity to keep warm­ing be­low two de­grees Cel­sius, let alone 1.5OC.” The 196-na­tion Paris Agree­ment, adopted in 2015, calls for cap­ping global warm­ing at 2OC be­low pre-in­dus­trial lev­els. With the planet out of kil­ter af­ter only one de­gree of warm­ing – enough to am­plify deadly heat­waves, droughts, and su­per­storms – the treaty also vows to ex­plore the fea­si­bil­ity of hold­ing the line at 1.5OC. Earth is over­heat­ing due to the burn­ing of oil, gas and es­pe­cially coal to power the global econ­omy. De­for­esta­tion also plays a crit­i­cal role. “The news that emis­sions are ris­ing af­ter a three-year hia­tus is a gi­ant leap back­ward for hu­mankind,” said Amy Luers, a climate pol­icy ad­vi­sor to for­mer US pres­i­dent Barack Obama and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Fu­ture Earth, which co-spon­sored the re­search. This year’s climate sum­mit is presided by Fiji, one of dozens of small is­land na­tions whose very ex­is­tence is threat­ened by ris­ing seas en­gorged by warmer wa­ter and melt-off from ice sheets on Green­land and Antarc­tica. Thou­sands of diplo­mats in Bonn are ne­go­ti­at­ing the “rule­book” for the Paris pact, which goes into ef­fect in 2020. To stay be­low the 2OC thresh­old, green­house gas emis­sions should peak and be­gin to curve down­ward by 2020, ear­lier re­search has shown. Stalled CO2 emis­sions from 2014 through 2016 – due to bet­ter en­ergy ef­fi­ciency, a boom in re­new­ables, and re­duced coal use in China – raised ex­pec­ta­tions that the world had turned the cor­ner. Those hopes were pre­ma­ture. “As each year ticks by, the chances of avoid­ing 2OC of warm­ing con­tinue to di­min­ish,” said co-au­thor Glen Peters, re­search di­rec­tor at Cen­tre for In­ter­na­tional Climate Re­search in Oslo, Nor­way. “Given that 2OC is ex­tremely un­likely, based on cur­rent progress, then 1.5OC is a dis­tant dream,” he said. The study fin­gered China as the sin­gle largest cause of resur­gent fos­sil fuel emis­sions in 2017, with its coal, oil and nat­u­ral gas use up 3%, 5% and 12% re­spec­tively. China alone ac­counts for nearly 30% of global car­bon pol­lu­tion. Emis­sions from In­dia – the world’s fourth largest emit­ter af­ter the United States and the Euro­pean Union – are pro­jected to grow by 2%, down from a 6.7% in­crease the year be­fore. Last year, CO2 emis­sions in the US dropped by only 0.4%, com­pared to 1.2% an­nu­ally over the pre­vi­ous decade. For the first time in five years, US coal use is pro­jected to rise. The Paris Agree­ment rests on vol­un­tary car­bon-cut­ting pledges from vir­tu­ally every coun­try. But even if ful­filled, those prom­is­sory notes are not enough to keep Earth in the safe zone, and would still see global tem­per­a­tures rise a dev­as­tat­ing 3OC by the end of the cen­tury. “Global com­mit­ments made are still not be­ing matched by ac­tions,” said Peters. The bot­tom line, say ex­perts, is that the global econ­omy is not shift­ing quickly enough from fos­sil fu­els to low- or zero-car­bon en­ergy. So­lar and wind en­ergy have grown 14% an­nu­ally since 2012, but still only ac­count for a tiny frac­tion – less than 4% – of global en­ergy con­sump­tion. The tran­si­tion from dirty to clean en­ergy has been slowed by oil, gas and coal sub­si­dies that topped $320 mil­lion (about R4.5 bil­lion) in 2015, ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional En­ergy Agency. Oceans and forests com­bined ab­sorbed over half of the CO2 emis­sions from hu­man ac­tiv­ity, with the rest stay­ing in the at­mos­phere, the study showed. “We would ex­pect that the car­bon sinks will even­tu­ally weaken as tem­per­a­tures con­tinue to rise, but how much and how fast is an ac­tive area of re­search,” said Peters. The In­ter­na­tional Union for Con­ser­va­tion of Na­ture (IUCN), mean­while, re­leased a re­port on Mon­day show­ing that climate change now im­per­ils one in four nat­u­ral World Her­itage sites, in­clud­ing co­ral reefs, glaciers, and wet­lands – nearly dou­ble the num­ber from just three years ago. –

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