Nations ‘nowhere near’ emissions cuts needed to avoid climate disaster, U.N. says

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The amount of methane in the atmosphere is increasing at a rapid pace, according to a study by the World Meteorological Organization, which threatens to undermine efforts to slow climate change.

The WMO’s Greenhouse Gas Bulletin says that “global emissions have rebounded since the shutdowns related to COVID-19” and that the increases in methane levels in 2020 and 2021 were the largest since systematic record-keeping began in 1983.

“Methane concentrations are not only increasing, they are increasing faster than ever,” said Rob Jackson, a professor of Earth systems science at Stanford University.

The study comes on the same day as a new UN report that says the world’s governments have not committed enough to cut carbon emissions, putting the world on track to increase global temperatures by 2.5 degrees Celsius (4.5 degrees Celsius) by the end of the century.

The analysis said the level of emissions indicated by the countries’ new commitments was slightly lower than a year ago, but would still lead to a full degree of temperature increase above the target level set at the most recent climate summits. To avoid the most catastrophic 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 gravity of the threats we face and the short time we have left to avoid the devastating consequences of climate change,” said Simon Steele, UN Executive Secretary. Climate Change Secretariat. “We are still nowhere near the scale and pace of emissions reductions needed.”

Instead, according to the UN report, the world faces a future of unbearable heat, escalating weather disasters, ecosystem collapse and widespread hunger and disease.

“It’s a bad, terrible, incomprehensible picture,” said Inger Andersen, executive director of the UN Environment Programme, of the world’s current warming trajectory. “That image is just not an image we can accept.”

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

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Scientists are studying whether unusually large increases in atmospheric methane levels in 2020 and 2021 are the result of “climate feedbacks” from natural sources such as tropical wetlands and rice paddies, or whether they are the result of man-made natural gas. and industrial runoff. Or both.

Methane emitted from fossil sources has more of the isotope carbon-13 than that produced by wetlands or cattle.

“The isotope data suggests that it is biological rather than fossil methane from a gas leak. It could be from agriculture,” Jackson said. He warned that “it could even be the beginning of a dangerous acceleration caused by warming methane emissions from wetlands and other natural systems we’ve been caring for for decades.”

The WMO said that as the planet gets warmer, organic material breaks down faster. If organic material breaks down in water – without oxygen – it leads to methane emissions. This process can feed itself; if tropical wetlands become wetter and warmer, more emissions are possible.

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

Antoine Half, principal analyst and co-founder of the firm Kayrros, which does extensive analysis of satellite data, said “we don’t see any increase” in methane generated from fossil sources. He said some countries, such as Australia, had reduced emissions while others, such as Algeria, had worsened.

Atmospheric levels of the other two main greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide – also reached record highs in 2021, the WMO study said: “The increase in carbon dioxide levels from 2020 to 2021 was greater than the average annual rate of growth over the past decade.”

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

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

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Like others, Taalas urged the search for low-cost techniques to capture short-lived methane, especially when it comes to natural gas. Because of its relatively short lifetime, “methane’s impact on climate is reversible,” he said.

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

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

The WMO report comes just ahead of the COP27 climate conference in Egypt next month. Last year, in the run-up to the climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, the United States and the European Union took the lead in promoting the Global Methane Pledge, which set a goal of reducing atmospheric emissions by 30 percent by 2030. it is estimated that this could reduce the 0.2 degrees Celsius of temperature rise that would otherwise occur. So far, 122 countries have signed up for the pledge.

White House climate negotiator John F. Kerry said that in a joint US-China declaration issued in Glasgow, China pledged to announce an “ambitious plan” at this year’s climate summit that would move towards reducing methane pollution. So far, however, that has not happened and China has yet to issue an updated “nationally determined contribution,” or NDC, in United Nations parlance.

“We look forward to an updated 2030 NDC from China that will accelerate CO2 reductions and address 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,” he said.

However, the United States is also among the vast majority of nations that have not updated their NDCs this year, something all countries pledged to do when the Glasgow summit ended a year ago.

Only 24 countries submitted new pledges in the past 12 months – and few of the updated pledges represent a significant improvement over their past pledges, the UN report said. Australia has made the most significant changes to its national climate target, which has not been updated since the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015.

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Postcards from our climate future

Overall, the combined 193 climate pledges made by Paris would increase emissions by 10.6 percent by 2030, compared to 2010 levels. This reflects a slight improvement on last year’s estimate, which showed countries were on track to increase emissions by 13.7 percent by 2030, compared with 2010 levels, the United Nations said.

But nations must cut their carbon output to about 45 percent of their 2010 levels to avoid warming above 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) – a threshold scientists say humanity can avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change.

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

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

There are huge discrepancies between nations’ short-term climate pledges and their long-term plans, he noted. For most countries, the emissions trajectories implied by their NDCs will make it impossible to achieve the net-zero goal by mid-century.

The UN findings highlight a simple sobering fact, Andersen said: By waiting so long to act on climate change, humanity has denied itself the chance to make a slow and orderly transition to a safer and more sustainable future. Countries must continually raise their ambitions, rather than making modest carbon reduction pledges that are updated every five years. No nation can be at peace until every country eliminates planet-warming emissions and restores natural systems that can pull carbon out of the atmosphere, she said.

“We need to see more and faster,” she said. “Today you stretch and tomorrow you stretch and the day after that you stretch.”

Chris Mooney contributed to this report.

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