climate change

The world is edging closer to climate tipping points 

Coal is being loaded at a port in Indonesia. Photo credit: Reuters / Willy Kurniawan.

By Anders Lorenzen

The Global Carbon Project (GCP) has released its annual report which does not offer positive reading. It found there is now a 50% risk that a key climate threshold will soon be reached.

Emissions have bounced back from the COVID-19 and lockdown hiatus and high carbon activities such as flying have in fact accelerated, meaning that the crucial 1.5 C threshold could be breached within nine years. 

If this was to happen it would expose millions of people to climate impacts. Looking at the scale of climate disasters having already unfolded this year, many, especially in developing countries, would be extremely worried about the impacts we can expect to see when we cross that 1.5 C threshold. The world has already warmed by 1.1 degrees C.

The GCP report’s stark findings said that there is a 50% risk of exceeding the 1.5 rise target within the next nine years and researchers estimate by the end of 2022 a total of 40.6 billion tonnes (GtCO”) will have been emitted, a projected rise of CO2 emissions of 1% compared to 2021. The projected emissions from coal and oil are predicted to continue rising, with oil being the largest contributor to total emissions growth; researchers say this could be put down to a delayed rebound effect of international aviation following the easing of lockdown restrictions. 

The remaining carbon budget

This leaves the world with a remaining carbon budget of 380 GtCO2 if it is still committed to keeping warming at 1.5°C. If we were to adopt a 2°C target, the budget would be slightly larger at 1230 GtCO2.

The report outlines that if we are to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, a goal many economies have signed up to, it would require us to reduce emissions by 1.4 GtCO2 each year.

However, the report did offer some slight positives for example that this year’s analysis showed that the long-term rate of increasing fossil fuel emissions has slowed. The average rise peaked in the mid-2000s at +3% per year, and in the last decade, growth has been +0.5% per year. While the research team has welcomed this apparent slow-down, they said it was still far off the emissions decrease that is needed. 

Professor Pierre Friedlingstein, of Exeter’s Global Systems Institute which led the study said about their findings: “This year we see yet another rise in global fossil CO2 emissions when we need a rapid decline, “There are some positive signs, but leaders meeting at COP27 will have to take meaningful action if we are to have any chance of limiting global warming close to 1.5°C.”

Professor Corinne Le Quéré, Royal Society Research Professor at UEA’s School of Environmental Sciences, who also took part in the study added what is required to make emissions decline rapidly: “If governments respond by turbocharging clean energy investments and planting, not cutting, trees, global emissions could rapidly start to fall.” 

The report by the GCP projects that atmospheric CO2 concentrations will reach an average of 417.2 PPM in 2022 – this is more than 50% above pre-industrial levels. 

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