Study finds global greenhouse gas emissions at an all-time high

Germany reactivated mothballed coal-fired plants to cope with the crisis but Energy Minister Robert Habeck says the country is still on track to close its coal plants by 2030 – Copyright AFP/File Ina FASSBENDER

Greenhouse gas emissions are at an all-time high, threatening to push the world into “unprecedented” levels of global heating.

The world is rapidly running out of its “carbon budget”- the amount of carbon dioxide that can be poured into the atmosphere if we are to stay within the vital threshold of 1.5 C above pre-industrial temperatures, according to a study published in the journal Earth System Science Data on Thursday.

Based on the latest data, only 250 billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) can now be emitted if we are to avoid accumulations of CO2 in the atmosphere that would raise temperatures by 1.5 degrees C, according to a landmark report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released in 2018.

Yes, that report was published five years ago, and scientists then said the world had about 12 years to try and reduce CO2 emissions because letting them rise, “even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat, and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.”

And, by the way – that 250 billion tons of CO2 that we can emit now is actually down from the 500 billion tons just a few years ago, and at current annual rates of greenhouse gas emissions, of about 54 billion tons a year over the past decade, it would run out well before the end of this decade.

Figure 1Annual global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions by source, 1970–2021. Refer to Sect. 2.1 for a list of datasets. Datasets with an asterisk (*) indicate the sources used to compile global total greenhouse gas emissions in (a). CO2-equivalent emissions in (a) and (f) are calculated using global warming potentials (GWPs) with a 100-year time horizon from the AR6 WGI Chap. 7 (Forster et al., 2021). F-gas emissions in (a) comprise only UNFCCC F-gas emissions (see Sect. 2.1 for a list of species). Source – Piers M. Forster et al.

Professor Piers Forster, the director of the Priestley Centre for Climate Futures at the University of Leeds, and lead author of the paper said: “This is the critical decade for climate change. Decisions made now will have an impact on how much temperatures will rise and the degree and severity of impacts we will see as a result.”

The shift is due in part to the fact that, despite the brief dip in emissions during the coronavirus pandemic, carbon dioxide emissions from burning coal, oil, and gas are still sky-high — and even increased slightly last year.

According to The Guardian, Foster says that far stronger action is needed. “We need to change policy and approaches in light of the latest evidence about the state of the climate system. Time is no longer on our side,” he said.

Joeri Rogelj, co-author of the new paper and a professor of climate science at Imperial College London, told the Guardian: “The years of continued high emissions as the updates from the remaining carbon budget shows, mean that by now we should be doing more. That means either moving forward the global goal net zero date for CO2 from around 2050 to about 2035, or cutting much deeper by 2030.”

“This robust update shows intensifying heating of our climate driven by human activities,” study co-author Dr. Valérie Masson-Delmotte, from the Université Paris Saclay, who also co-chaired Working Group 1 of the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment report, said in a statement. “It is a timely wake-up call for the 2023 global stocktake of the Paris Agreement—the pace and scale of climate action is not sufficient to limit the escalation of climate-related risks.”

The new study isn’t the only alarming climate data released this week. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported Monday that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels had reached a peak of 424 parts per million in May, levels not seen in millions of years.

Meanwhile, Climate groups are launching a week of action in the U.S. Thursday calling on the Biden administration to declare a climate emergency and reverse the approval of major fossil fuel projects.

Study finds global greenhouse gas emissions at an all-time high
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