BusinessDay

Fossil fuel emission rates now above pre-pandemic levels, scientists warn

Emissions from burning fossil fuels are now higher than pre-pandemic levels after a temporary drop was recorded due to lockdowns, a situation that signals the world was heading in the wrong direction, scientists have warned.

To meet the 1.5 °C goals of the Paris Agreement, emissions reduction pledges for 2030 need to be seven times higher as greenhouse gas concentrations continue to rise to record levels, according to a new multi-agency report coordinated by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

The past seven years were the warmest on record. There is a 48 percent chance that, during at least one year in the next 5 years, the annual mean temperature will temporarily be 1.5°C higher than 1850-1900 average. As global warming increases, “tipping points” in the climate system can not be ruled out, the report said.

Global fossil CO2 emissions in 2021 returned to the pre-pandemic levels of 2019 after falling by 5.4 percent in 2020 due to widespread lockdowns. Preliminary data shows that global CO2 emissions in 2022 (January to May) are 1.2 percent above the levels recorded during the same period in 2019, driven by increases in the United States, India and most European countries.

Despite a strong fluctuation in global emissions over the past two and a half years, fossil CO2 emissions fell significantly in 23 countries (many European countries, Japan, Mexico and the USA) during the pre-pandemic decade of 2010–2019, the report said.

The report which highlights the huge gap between aspirations and reality, warns that without much more ambitious action, the physical and socioeconomic impacts of climate change will be increasingly devastating.

Read also: $1.4trn needed to align iron, steel industry with climate goals – Wood Mackenzie

Cities that host billions of people and are responsible for up to 70 percent of human-caused emissions will face increasing socio-economic impacts. The most vulnerable populations will suffer most, says the report which gives examples of extreme weather in different parts of the world this year.

Climate scientists warn that floods, droughts, heatwaves, extreme storms and wildfires are going from bad to worse, breaking records with alarming frequency. Heatwaves in Europe. Colossal floods in Pakistan. Prolonged and severe droughts in China, the Horn of Africa and the United States.

“There is nothing natural about the new scale of these disasters. They are the price of humanity’s fossil fuel addiction,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

“This year’s United in Science report shows climate impacts heading into uncharted territory of destruction. Yet each year we double-down on this fossil fuel addiction, even as the symptoms get rapidly worse,” Guterres said in a video message.

With 3.3 to 3.6 billion people living in contexts that are highly vulnerable to climate change, it is more important than ever for the international community to take ambitious action to not only mitigate emissions but also adapt to climate change, particularly extreme weather and compounding events, which can lead to long-lasting socioeconomic impacts, the report said.

It called for early warning systems as an effective adaptation measure that can save lives, reduce losses and damages, and are cost-effective.

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