An Outbreak of Climate Optimism

The U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) has released its report ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP26. The U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP), has published its Emissions Gap Report 2021, declaring that the world is on track for a global average temperature rise this century of at least 2.7°C (4.9°F). The UNEP found that the greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction pledges made by signatories to the Paris Agreement back in 2015, known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs), are far too modest to keep average temperatures from rising by less than the 2.0°C (3.6°F) threshold set by the treaty, much less the more stringent limit of 1.5°C (2.7°F), by 2100.

The UNEP report calculated that current global GHG emissions must be cut by 55 percent before 2030 in order the sustain the trajectory toward the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C goal. The UNEP estimates that global GHG emissions, including methane and carbon dioxide, reached nearly 60 gigatons by 2020. Emissions would be reduced by 55 percent, which is 3.6 gigatons annually, by cutting 33 gigatons.

The United States emitted just 4.6 gigatons (the lowest emission in the past 40 years) of carbon dioxide in 2020. The continued switch to cheaper, lower-carbon natural gas for electricity generation, and the effects of the pandemic on travel and the economy, are all contributing factors to this.

The agency found that the new and updated NDCs only take a predicted 7.5 percent off 2030 global emissions, putting the world on track for an average temperature increase of 2.7°C by 2100. The report did note that if countries’ announced net-zero emissions targets were fully implemented, that could shave an extra 0.5°C off global warming, bringing the predicted temperature rise down to 2.2°C.

Two new analysis suggest that UNEP’s report is too pessimistic. This may be due to new promises made by COP26. Let’s start with the optimistic. Fatih Birol (Executive Director, International Energy Agency) yesterday tweetedYou can find this link:

The IEA computed its mid-October results in World Energy OutlookAccording to reports, if GHG reductions policies were implemented by countries, the world’s demand for fossil energy would rise by 20% by 2025. Global carbon dioxide emissions will drop by 40% by 2050. In that scenario, the global average temperature rise in 2100 would be around 2.1°C.

According to the IEA, its quick analysis presumes that each country who has promised net-zero GHG emission over the next several decades will honor its commitments. It also takes into account the new agreement by 100 countries to cut methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030. “Our updated analysis of these new targets – on top of all of those made previously – shows that if they are met in full and on time, they would be enough to hold the rise in global temperatures to 1.8°C by the end of the century,” notes the new IEA commentary.

Science has just published a new analysis, “Can Updated Climate Pledges Limit Warming Well Below 2°C?,” parsing how the implementation of the newly announced NDCs could affect future average global temperature trends. The answer to the question posed in the article’s title is “perhaps,” assuming that the new pledges are fulfilled.

Yang Ou (a research fellow at the Joint Global Change Research Institute), lead author, stated that there is a one-in-three chance we will stay below 2° Celsius. “But even with our increased ambition, it’s still a long way to go before we get down below 1.5 degrees this century,” he said. Haewon MacJeon, an author at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, stated that this new analysis had “practically eliminated the possibility of adverse climate outcomes of 4°C or higher.”

It is important to be skeptical about new emissions promises if they are not enacted and met as per the Kyoto Protocol. It is easy for politicians to make promises about the future that others leaders will follow.