In order to fulfill the commitment that many countries have made public almost zero CO2 emissions by 2050 – a condition to truly tackle the climate crisis – it is necessary to cut both the amount of gases that are released into the atmosphere each year and what happened in 2020 due to the COVID restrictions.
CO2 emissions have not stopped growing, but not in all countries equally
The situation has been placed at that level because, at the current rate, humanity will spend in just nine years all the amount of greenhouse gases that could still be released into the atmosphere without causing global warming of the Earth above 1.5ºC , according to the physical calculations of the Global Carbon Budget.
That is, in 2031, the volume of CO2, methane or N2O that would already be in the air would raise the planet’s temperature above that level.
“Emissions fell by 5% during 2020 because we stopped flying, driving cars and many people stopped leaving home to go to work. Achieving the maximum temperature target would require a similar effort starting as early as 2023,” explains Pep Canadell, chief scientist at the CSIRO Research Center in Australia. “Of course this is not realistic, but it illustrates the scale of the action required,” concludes Canadell.
But the action goes in the opposite direction. “There is no sign that the released CO2 decreases,” summarizes the GCB. In fact, the projection is for an increase of 1% compared to 2021. “To understand what 1% is, it is equivalent to putting almost a million cars on the roads for a year,” says Canadell.
“It is surprising that, despite the energy crisis and the fact that China has decreased, global emissions are going to go up by 1%, which is like a million cars a year.
Pep Canadell, Chief Scientist of the Australian Research Center CSIRO
The use of fossil fuels remains very high. The projections of this group of scientists show that in 2022 emissions from burning coal and oil will rise. And that has already been certified that about 60% of the current reserves of oil and fossil methane gas, and 90% of those of coal must remain underground by 2050 if we want to have at least a 50% chance of meeting the goals set by the Paris Agreement.
“It is surprising that, despite the energy crisis and the fact that China – which is the largest emitter – has decreased, global emissions are going to rise and set a new historical record”, argues the CSIRO scientist.
What these scientists do is calculate the amount of CO2 that, acting in the atmosphere, will cause a certain rise in global temperature by retaining the heat that should escape into space. And calculate, also, how much of the gas that is released will remain in the air as a greenhouse. From there comes a volume of CO2 that humans can emit to limit the extra temperature. A carbon budget.
The affordable greenhouse gas budget to avoid the most damaging climate change is being depleted by leaps and bounds
The fundamental figures of this calculation are: everything indicates that emissions by 2022 will reach 40 gigatons (37 of them from fossil fuels). The maximum that can be released into the atmosphere to limit the temperature to an extra 1.5ºC (safety level) will be 380 gigatons, which “will be exceeded in nine years.”
So, according to this scientific review, we are running out of credit in the carbon bank. The budget for assumable greenhouse gases to avoid the most damaging climate change is being exhausted by leaps and bounds. In less than a decade everything will have been launched.
Run in the opposite direction
It is true that increasing by 1% represents a slower increase than the average of the last 50 years, but it continues to advance in the opposite direction to what is indicated, which is to decrease, not increase a little. “It is important to understand that it is impossible to stabilize the climate at 1.5ºC and that we will pass that temperature at some point. In order to have a chance again at the end of the century, carbon must be removed from the atmosphere”, indicates Pep Canadell.
A few days ago, a group of more than a thousand scientists published a letter claiming to admit that the goal of 1.5ºC extra degrees was out of reach with the idea, they said, that it would not serve as an excuse for a kind of complacency on the part of governments and companies.
In 2022, in addition to rebounding all the emissions it caused to air traffic (which had not yet recovered after the COVID pandemic), the negative effects of the war in Ukraine have been added to it.
These effects “will last between three and five years”, analyzes Canadell. Although later he adds a positive note: “In the medium term it has shown that it is the renewable energies that we can generate in our own countries that give us energy independence and that can help in the future in the fight against climate change.”