UN says nations need ‘not imminent’ emissions cuts to avoid climate catastrophe

UN says nations need 'not imminent' emissions cuts to avoid climate catastrophe
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According to a study by the World Meteorological Organization, the amount of methane in the atmosphere is advancing at an increasing rate and threatens to undermine efforts to slow climate change.

The WMO’s Greenhouse Gas Bulletin said “global emissions have recovered since the COVID-related lockdowns” and that the increases in methane levels in 2020 and 2021 were the largest since 1983, when systematic record-keeping began.

“Methane concentrations aren’t just increasing, they’re rising faster than ever before,” said Rob Jackson, professor of Earth systems science at Stanford University.

The study came the same day as a new UN report that said the world’s governments had not made a commitment. reduce enough carbon emissionsputting the world on track for a 2.5 degrees Celsius (4.5 degrees Fahrenheit) increase in global temperatures by the end of the century.

The analysis shows that the implied emission level new commitments of countries slightly lower than a year ago but would still lead to a full temperature rise beyond the target level set at the latest climate peaks. To prevent the most disastrous consequences of climate change, scientists say, humanity must limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.

“Government decisions and actions must reflect the level of urgency, the seriousness of the threats we face, and the brevity of our time left to avoid the devastating consequences of runaway climate change,” said UN Secretary-General Simon Stiell. Climate Change Secretariat. “We’re still nowhere near the scale and pace of the emissions reductions needed.”

Instead, the UN report found that the world was heading towards unbearable heat, increasing weather disasters, collapsing ecosystems, and widespread hunger and disease.

“This is a bleak, terrible and incomprehensible picture,” said Inger Andersen, executive director of the UN Environment Programme, speaking of the world’s current way of warming. “This picture is not one we can accept.”

The fastest way to influence the pace of global warming would be to reduce methane emissions, the second largest contributor to climate change. It has a warming effect 80 times greater than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. The WMO said the amount of methane in the atmosphere increased by 15 parts per billion in 2020 and 18 parts per billion in 2021.

Scientists are investigating whether the unusually large increases in atmospheric methane levels in 2020 and 2021 are the result of “climate feedback” from nature-based sources such as tropical wetlands and rice fields, or the result of man-made natural gas. and industrial leakage. Or both.

Methane emitted from fossil sources has more carbon-13 isotopes than is produced from wetlands or cattle.

“The isotope data suggest it’s biological rather than fossil methane from gas seeps. It could be from agriculture,” Jackson said.

The WMO said organic matter decomposes faster as the planet warms. If organic matter decomposes in water without oxygen, this leads to methane emissions. This process can feed itself; If tropical wetlands get wetter and warmer, more emissions are possible.

“Will warming feed warming in tropical wetlands?” she asked. “We don’t know yet.”

“We don’t see any increase” in methane produced by fossil sources, said Antoine Halff, principal analyst and co-founder of Kayrros, which conducts extensive analysis of satellite data. He said some countries, such as Australia, are reducing emissions, while others, such as Algeria, are worsening.

Atmospheric levels of two other major greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide) also reached record levels in 2021, the WMO study said, in a decade.”

Carbon dioxide concentrations in 2021 were 415.7 parts per million (or ppm), methane 1908 parts per billion (ppb), and nitrous oxide 334.5 ppb. These values ​​represent 149 percent, 262 percent and 124 percent of pre-industrial levels, respectively.

WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said the report “underlined once again the enormous challenge and vital necessity of urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prevent future global temperatures from rising further.”

Like others, Taalas urged the pursuit of inexpensive techniques to capture short-lived methane, especially when it comes to natural gas. Because of its relatively short lifespan, methane’s “effect on climate is reversible,” he said.

“The necessary changes are economically viable and technically feasible. Time is running out,” he said.

The WMO also pointed to warming of the oceans and land, as well as the atmosphere. “Over the 2011-2020 period, about 48 percent of total emissions from human activities accumulated in the atmosphere, 26 percent in the ocean, and 29 percent on land.”

The WMO report comes shortly before the COP27 climate conference in Egypt next month. Ahead of the climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland last year, the United States and the European Union spearheaded the introduction of the Global Methane Commitment, which sets a goal of achieving a 30 percent reduction in the atmosphere by 2030. It is estimated that the increase in temperatures that would otherwise occur could decrease by 0.2 degrees Celsius. So far, 122 countries have signed up for the pledge.

White House climate negotiator John F. Kerry said in a joint US-China statement released in Glasgow, China has pledged to release an “ambitious plan” for this year’s climate summit to take action to reduce methane pollution. But so far this has not happened and China still has not issued a current “nationally designated contribution” or NDC in the language of the United Nations.

“We look forward to an updated 2030 NDC from China that accelerates CO2 reduction and addresses all greenhouse gases,” Kerry said.

“To keep this goal alive, national governments need to strengthen their climate action plans now and implement them over the next eight years.”

Still, the United States is among the vast majority of nations that haven’t updated their NDCs this year; this is something all countries promised to do when the Glasgow summit ended a year ago.

According to the UN report, only 24 countries have made new commitments in the last 12 months, and few of the updated commitments represent a meaningful improvement over their past commitments. Australia has made the most significant changes to its national climate target, which has not been updated since the Paris agreement in 2015.

Postcards from our climate future

In total, the 193 climate commitments made since Paris will increase emissions by 10.6 percent by 2030 compared to 2010 levels. The United Nations reflects a slight improvement over last year’s assessment, which found that countries are on track to increase emissions by 13.7 percent by 2030, compared to 2010 levels.

But countries must reduce their carbon output to around 45 percent of 2010 levels to prevent further warming. 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) – a threshold at which scientists say humanity can avoid the most disastrous effects of climate change.

Just under half of the countries also submitted long-term plans to reduce their emissions to zero. If these countries keep their promises, global emissions by mid-century could be 64 percent lower than they are now, according to the UN report. Scientists say these cuts could keep the temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) and bring humanity a little closer to tolerable warming levels.

“But it’s not really clear whether countries can actually achieve this,” warned Joeri Rogelj, a climate scientist at Imperial College London who specializes in global warming pathways.

He noted that there are large differences between nations’ short-term climate commitments and their long-term plans. For most countries, the emissions trajectories implied by their NDCs will make it nearly impossible to reach the net zero target by mid-century.

Andersen said the UN findings highlight a simple sobering fact: “In waiting so long to take action on climate change, humanity has been denied a chance to make a slow and orderly transition to a safer and more sustainable future. Countries should continually support their goals, rather than making modest carbon reduction commitments that are updated every five years. No nation can rest until each country eliminates planet-warming emissions and restores natural systems that can pull carbon out of the atmosphere, he said.

“We need to see more and faster,” he said. “You yawn today, yawn tomorrow and yawn the next day.”

Chris Mooney contributed to this report.

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