Published: 04th March 2021
CO2 emissions cuts must increase tenfold to tackle climate emergency, study says
The findings, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, show the need for far greater ambition ahead of the important UN climate summit in Glasgow, UK, in November
Sixty-four countries reduced their fossil carbon-dioxide emissions during the period between 2016 and 2019, but the rate of global reduction needs to increase tenfold to meet the Paris Agreement goals to fight climate change, according to a study. The researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA), UK, Stanford University in the US and the Global Carbon Project examined the progress in cutting fossil CO2 emissions since the Paris Agreement was adopted in 2015.
The findings, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, show the need for far greater ambition ahead of the important UN climate summit in Glasgow, UK, in November. "Countries' efforts to cut CO2 emissions since the Paris Agreement are starting to pay off, but actions are not large-scale enough yet and emissions are still increasing in way too many countries," said Corinne Le Quere, Royal Society Professor at UEA. "The drop in CO2 emissions from responses to COVID-19 highlights the scale of actions and of international adherence needed to tackle climate change," Le Quere, who led the study, said.
The researchers noted that the annual cuts of 0.16 billion tonnes of CO2 are only 10 per cent of the 1-2 billion tonnes of CO2 cuts that are needed globally every year to tackle climate change. They explained that emissions decreased in 64 countries during 2016-2019, they increased in 150 countries. According to the study, Global carbon emissions grew by 0.21 billion tonnes of CO2 per year during 2016-2019 compared to 2011-2015.
The researchers noted that in 2020, confinement measures to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic cut global emissions by 2.6 billion tonnes of CO2, about 7 per cent below 2019 levels. They explained that 2020 is a 'pause button' that cannot realistically continue while the world overwhelmingly relies on fossil fuels.
Confinement policies are neither a sustainable nor desirable solution to the climate crisis, according to the researchers. They noted that annual cuts of 1-2 billion tonnes of CO2 are needed throughout the 2020s and beyond to avoid exceeding global warming within the range 1.5 degrees Celsius to well below 2 degrees Celsius, the ambition of the UN Paris Agreement.
The world has warmed by over 1 degrees Celsius since the Industrial Revolution because of emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities, the researchers said. According the study, of the 36 high-income countries, 25 saw their emissions decrease during 2016-2019 compared to 2011-2015, including the US, the European Union, and the UK. The team noted that emissions decreased even when accounting for the carbon footprint of imported goods produced in other countries.
The research shows that 30 out of 99 upper-middle income countries also saw their emissions decrease during 2016-2019 compared to 2011-2015. This suggests that actions to reduce emissions are now in motion in many countries worldwide, the researchers said. Mexico is a notable example in that group, while China's emissions increased 0.4 per cent, much less than the 6.2 per cent annual growth of 2011-2015, they said.
The growing number of climate change laws and policies appear to have played a key role in curbing the growth in emissions during 2016-2019, the researchers said, adding that there are now more than 2000 climate laws and policies worldwide. They noted that a full bounce-back in 2021 to previous CO2 emission levels appears unlikely. However, the reserachers said unless the COVID-19 recovery directs investments in clean energy and the green economy, emissions will likely start increasing again within a few years.