Four years is all we have
Grim reports on climate change say act now or be ready for catastrophe.
HUMANITY HAS only about four years left to stabilise global temperatures and save the world from environmental catastrophe stemming from extreme climate change, scientists have warned.
After negotiations at this month’s Bangkok Climate Change Conference ended in failure, the world’s leading scientific agencies, the United Nations and environmentalists are urging governments to show greater determination.
They want to see more ambitious action to rapidly de-carbonise the global economy and stabilise the temperature at the safest possible level of 1.5 degrees Celsius.
They also identified Southeast Asia as a strategic area in the mission to reverse climate change, calling the region not only a major front in the battle against the spreading use of fossil fuels but also one of the locales most vulnerable to the detrimental impacts.
An analysis by an organisation called Carbon Brief on “carbon budgets” in 2016 sounded the alarm. If the world continues to release greenhouse gases (GHG) at the current rate, the carbon budget for maintaining the global temperature rise at 1.5 degrees would expire in “four years and one month”.
Another group, Climate Action Tracker (CAT), in May assessed different countries’ levels of commitment to climate-change mitigation as set out in the Paris Agreement. It revealed that the current pledged commitments were too weak to achieve the agreement’s ambitious aims. It said many rich nations were also unable to honour their pledges, known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).
Even if all countries reduced GHG as projected in their NDCs, total global emissions would still reach the equivalent of 52-55 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide (GtCO2e) in 2025 and 54-58 in 2030. Those figures are significantly higher than the emission goals established in Paris. To hold at 1.5 degrees, GHG emissions would have to be cut to 38 GtCO2e by 2025 and to 32 by 2030.
UN Environment in its latest “emissions gap” report said that, unless the gap is closed by 2030, it will be extremely hard to reach the goal of holding global warming to well below 2 degrees.
The emissions gap refers to the GHG reduction shortfall compared to goals. CAT estimates that, in order to hold at 1.5 degrees, the gap would have to be around 17 GtCO2e in 2025.
“Despite political, industrial and civic leaders strengthening and implementing the Paris Agreement, current state pledges cover no more than a third of the emission reductions needed, creating an ever-growing dangerous gap,” UN Environment chief Erik Solheim warned.
CAT assessments of NDCs for the European Union and 30 countries elsewhere showed the commitments of wealthy developed countries were “very weak and highly insufficient” to reach the Paris climate-stabilisation goal. Developing countries, on the other hand, were pursuing much more ambitious goals for cutting GHG and more pronounced climate-change mitigation commitments.
The findings suggest that the richer countries are “losing interest” in the Paris Agreement, even though they emit the most greenhouse gases.
Long-term mitigation strategies
Solheim and CAT emphasised that every signatory to the agreement had to urgently scale up both policies and targets and to develop long-term mitigation strategies to stay on target for holding the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees.
Environmental activists and supporters take part in a demonstration in front of the United Nations building, in Bangkok on September 8, 2018. // AFP PHOTO
“If we cannot strengthen our mitigation commitments in time, we will miss the final opportunity to prevent the global temperature from rising beyond 2 degrees and fail to avoid catastrophic outcomes of extreme climate change,” Solheim said.
Some hope can be found in a Climate Analytics report on limiting the temperature rise. It said the 1.5-degree goal was achievable by transitioning towards becoming low-carbon societies and ceasing the use of fossil fuels by 2050.
“Climate stabilisation is an important technical and political challenge,” the report said. “Many solutions and technologies represent many wedges to achieve the required emission reduction. No further delay in mitigation action is allowed, as the global emissions must decline rapidly and steadily after 2020.”
Greenpeace International executive director Jennifer Morgan, speaking at the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco on Friday, urged all nations to get more ambitious, chart clear paths to net-zero emissions by mid-century and empower “bottom-up” climate action.
“We have arrived at the moment of truth,” she said. “Climate change is here and it’s big and dangerous. Super-typhoon Mangkhut and Hurricane Florence are the latest grim examples of the dangers the changing climate might pose.
“We’ve lost precious time through denial and insufficient action from political leaders and companies and we’re now running up against the clock. We’re at the 11th hour and in urgent need for climate leadership and action before it truly is too late.”
Many studies and analyses concur that mitigation efforts in Southeast Asia will be much harder. The International Energy Agency (IEA) expects the region to keep up “very high demand” for fossil fuels because they’re the cheapest sources of energy.
According to the IEA report “Southeast Asia Energy Outlook”, energy demand here will grow by two-thirds by 2040. Even though all 10 countries in the region signed the Paris accord, the IEA expects coal consumption to continue to rise, making Southeast Asia the fossil-fuel industry’s last stronghold on Earth.
The IEA said strong growth in consumption would lead to a rise in GHG emissions from the energy sector of more than 70 per cent. That was in clear contravention of the mitigation aims of theParis Agreement, it said, and would make the region all the more vulnerable to severe natural disasters.
The IEA said energy-use transition and de-carbonisation remained possible in the region, but policymakers clearly faced tough decisions.
Somporn Chuai-Aree, a science and technology lecturer at Prince of Songkla University, noted that the fossil-fuels industry has strong influence in the region and over governments, so he was pessimistic that Southeast Asia and especially Thailand could move away from carbon by 2050.
“In my opinion, successful energy transformation requires governments that cherish the interests of their citizens more than big fossil-fuels conglomerates,” Somporn said.