Global emissions could push the Earth beyond 1.5ºC of warming within the next nine years, new research has found, as emissions levels edge slightly ahead of the levels recorded before the pandemic.
On Friday, the Global Carbon Project released an annual carbon emissions data dump tracking the state of global emissions, including from major emitters like the United States, China, nations across Europe, and Australia, and suggested that CO2 emissions “continued to increase by 1.0 percent” through 2022, bringing levels above those recorded in 2019.
“The reality we are facing is that global emissions of CO2 are not decreasing,” said professor Jeremy Moss, the UNSW lead of the Climate Justice Project.
“Instead of being on track to reduce emissions, the latest data from The Global Carbon Budget 2022 shows global fossil CO2 emissions are projected to rise by 1.0 percent in 2022. If current emissions levels persist, there is a 50 percent chance that warming of 1.5°C will be exceeded in nine years, by the end of the decade.”
In order to change course, he said, Australia needs to get land-clearing under control, and take “responsibility for all the greenhouse gas emissions” the nation contributes to global emissions, “especially through the export of coal and gas”.
According to the research paper, emissions from coal, oil, and gas are also expected to see an increase this year, even though some of the world’s biggest emitters, like China, are recording slight decreases.
Samantha Hepburn, research director of the law school at Deakin University, and director of the Centre for Energy and Natural Resource Law, said the research shows clearly how much the pandemic and Russia’s assault on Ukraine have impacted the world’s emissions rates.
“These figures highlight the fact that over the past few years, emissions reductions have largely been responsive to the social and economic changes generated by the pandemic, the war, and distributional obstructions,” professor Hepburn said.
“They have not been the response of fundamental changes to social and economic behaviour,” she said.
“At this rate, the world will exceed 1.5 degrees warming in nine years. To prevent catastrophic global warming, systemic changes to carbon intensive activities are immediately required.”
The warning comes off the back of near-monthly reminders of the Earth’s imminent destruction.
In August last year, the world’s top climate scientists warned that the planet, if left unchecked, was set to warm by 1.5º Celsius within the next two decades, without radical moves to cut greenhouse gas pollution (a generous assessment, compared to today’s data).
The warning, which was issued as part of a report famously branded “a code red for humanity” by the United Nations’ secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, marked the beginning of a new way of speaking about the short-term impacts of climate change: dispensing with cautious assessments of the environment in favour of the urgent, borderline violent language the moment demands.
Since then, equally visceral warnings have come in thick and fast. Guterres’ pleas have become a consistent fixture on the world stage, while even historically conservative consultancy firms are issuing warnings of their own to leading business leaders around the world, even if only to keep humanity kicking so as to save capital markets.
Others take a starker view: that the time for warnings is long behind us, and that recent emissions rates, particularly those in Friday’s findings, literally signify the end of the world.
“Fossil CO2 emissions are again going to reach a new record high this year with no signs of an immediate peak and decline as is desperately needed to address the climate crisis,” said Dr Pep Canadell, a research scientist at the CSIRO, and executive director of the Global Carbon Project.
“The climate crisis requires crisis-like actions which I don’t see happening. It is a mistake to think that the energy transition will be a smooth transition, that is what has happened in the past over a half a century time frame, a time we don’t have available.”
If humanity were to even consider a life beyond the next decade or so, scientists say it would have to be one without coal and gas, and that getting there would require an end to all new oil and gas projects. In Australia, where the government remains comfortable with a pipeline of more than 100 new coal and gas projects, the idea remains a world away.
Instead, Australia’s Labor government has legislated a 43 percent cut to emissions, compared to 2005 levels—still well below the 50 to 75 percent target band recommended by experts—while trying to keep the executives of major fossil fuel companies onside.
As it stands, prime minister Anthony Albanese’s 2030 emissions reduction plan has brought Australia in line with slightly less carbon offensive global carbon economies, like Canada, which has pledged a cut of between 40 and 45 percent; South Korea, which has promised 40 percent; and Japan, where emissions are expected to dip 46 percent by 2030.
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