Global car­bon emis­sions at record lev­els

The News Tribune - - Front Page - BY BRADY DEN­NIS AND CHRIS MOONEY Wash­ing­ton Post

Global emis­sions of car­bon diox­ide have reached the high­est lev­els on record, sci­en­tists pro­jected Wed­nes­day, in the lat­est ev­i­dence of the chasm be­tween in­ter­na­tional goals for com­bat­ing cli­mate change and what coun­tries are ac­tu­ally do­ing.

Be­tween 2014 and 2016, emis­sions re­mained largely flat, lead­ing to hopes that the world was be­gin­ning to turn a cor­ner. Those hopes have been dashed. In 2017, global emis­sions grew 1.6 per­cent. The rise in 2018 is pro­jected to be 2.7 per­cent.

The ex­pected in­crease, which would bring fos­sil fuel and in­dus­trial emis­sions to a record high of 37.1 bil­lion tons of car­bon diox­ide per year, is be­ing driven by nearly 5 per­cent emis­sions growth in China and more than 6 per­cent in In­dia, re­searchers es­ti­mated, along with growth in many other na­tions through­out the world. Emis­sions by the United States grew 2.5 per­cent, while emis­sions by the Euro­pean Union de­clined by just un­der 1 per­cent.

As na­tions are gath­ered for cli­mate talks in Poland, the mes­sage of Wed­nes­day’s re­port was un­am­bigu­ous: When it comes to prom­ises to be­gin cut­ting the green­house gas emis­sions that fuel cli­mate change, the world re­mains well


U.N. Sec­re­tary Gen­eral An­tónio Guter­res

off tar­get.

“We are in trou­ble. We are in deep trou­ble with cli­mate change,” U.N. Sec­re­tary Gen­eral An­tónio Guter­res said this week at the open­ing of the 24th an­nual U.N. cli­mate con­fer­ence, where coun­tries will wres­tle with the am­bi­tious goals they need to meet to sharply re­duce car­bon emis­sions in com­ing years.

“It is hard to over­state the ur­gency of our sit­u­a­tion,” he added. “Even as we wit­ness dev­as­tat­ing cli­mate im­pacts caus­ing havoc across the world, we are still not do­ing enough, nor mov­ing fast enough, to pre­vent ir­re­versible and cat­a­strophic cli­mate dis­rup­tion.”

Guter­res was not com­ment­ing specif­i­cally on Wed­nes­day’s find­ings, which were re­leased in a trio of sci­en­tific pa­pers by re­searchers with the Global Car­bon Project. But his words came amid a litany of grim news in the fall in which sci­en­tists have warned that the ef­fects of cli­mate change are no longer dis­tant and hy­po­thet­i­cal, and that the im­pacts of global warm­ing will only in­ten­sify in the ab­sence of ag­gres­sive in­ter­na­tional ac­tion.

In Oc­to­ber, a top U.N.backed sci­en­tific panel found that na­tions have barely a decade to take “un­prece­dented” ac­tions and cut their emis­sions in half by 2030 to pre­vent the worst con­se­quences of cli­mate change. The panel’s re­port found “no docu- mented his­toric prece­dent” for the rapid changes to the in­fra­struc­ture of so­ci­ety that would be needed to hold warm­ing to just 1.5 de­grees Cel­sius (2.7 de­grees Fahren­heit) above prein­dus­trial lev­els.

The day after Thanks­giv­ing, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion re­leased a nearly 1,700-page re­port cowrit­ten by hun­dreds of sci­en­tists find­ing that cli­mate change is al­ready caus­ing in­creas­ing dam­age to the United States. That was soon fol­lowed by an­other re­port de­tail­ing the grow­ing gap be­tween the com­mit­ments made at ear­lier U.N. con­fer­ences and what is needed to steer the planet off its calami­tous path.

Cou­pled with Wed­nes­day’s find­ings, that drum­beat of daunt­ing news has cast a con­sid­er­able pall over the in­ter­na­tional cli­mate talks in Poland, which be­gan this week and are sched­uled to run through Dec. 14.

Ne­go­tia­tors there face the dif­fi­cult task of com­ing to terms with the gap be­tween the prom­ises they made in Paris in 2015 and what’s needed to con­trol dan­ger­ous lev­els of warm­ing – a first step, it is hoped, to­ward more ag­gres­sive cli­mate ac­tion be­gin­ning in 2020. Lead­ers at the con­fer­ence also are try­ing to put in place a process for how coun­tries mea­sure and re­port their green­house gas emis­sions to the rest of the world in the years ahead.

But while most of the world re­mains firmly com­mit­ted to the no­tion of tack­ling cli­mate change, many coun­tries are not on pace to meet their rel­a­tively mod­est Paris pledges. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has con­tin­ued to roll back en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions and in­sist that it will exit the Paris agree­ment in 2020. Brazil, which has strug­gled to rein in de­for­esta­tion, in the fall elected a leader in Jair Bol­sonaro who has pledged to roll back pro­tec­tions for the Ama­zon.

The big­gest emis­sions story in 2018, though, ap­pears to be China, the world’s sin­gle largest emit­ting coun­try, which grew its out­put of planet-warm­ing gases by nearly half a bil­lion tons, re­searchers es­ti­mate. (The United States is the globe’s sec­ond-largest emit­ter).

The coun­try’s sud­den, sig­nif­i­cant in­crease in car­bon emis­sions could be linked to a wider slow­down in the econ­omy, en­vi­ron­men­tal an­a­lysts said.

China’s top plan­ning agency said Wed­nes­day that three ar­eas – Liaon­ing in the north­east Rust Belt and the big coal-pro­duc­ing re­gions of Ningxia and Xin­jiang in the north­west – had failed to meet their tar­gets to curb en­ergy con­sump­tion growth and im­prove ef­fi­ciency last year.

But Yang said that th­ese ar­eas were not rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the whole coun­try, and that China was gen­er­ally on the right track.

“There is still a long way ahead in terms of pol­lu­tion con­trol and emis­sions re­duc­tion, but we ex­pect to see more am­bi­tions in cen­tral gov­ern­ment’s plans and ac­tions,” he said.

Such changes – in all large-emit­ting na­tions – have to hap­pen fast.

Sci­en­tists have said that an­nual car­bon diox­ide emis­sions need to plunge al­most by half by the year 2030 if the world wants to hit the most strin­gent – and safest – cli­mate change tar­get. That would be ei­ther keep­ing the Earth’s warm­ing be­low 1.5 de­grees Cel­sius – when it is al­ready at 1 de­grees – or only briefly “over­shoot­ing” that tem­per­a­ture.

But emis­sions are far too high to limit warm­ing to such an ex­tent. And in­stead of fall­ing dra­mat­i­cally, they’re still ris­ing.

Wed­nes­day’s re­search makes clear the in­tim­i­dat­ing math be­hind the fun­da­men­tal shift that sci­en­tists say is re­quired. While some na­tions con­tinue to grow their emis­sions and some are shrink­ing them, over­all there are still more ad­di­tions than sub­trac­tions.

The prob­lem of cut­ting emis­sions is that it leads to dif­fi­cult choices in the real world. A grow­ing global econ­omy in­evitably stokes more en­ergy de­mand. And dif­fer­ent coun­tries are grow­ing their emis­sions – or fail­ing to shrink them – for dif­fer­ent rea­sons.

The con­tin­u­ing growth in global emis­sions is hap­pen­ing, re­searchers noted, even though re­new­able en­ergy sources are grow­ing. It’s just that they’re still far too small as en­ergy sources.

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