A cut of 1-2 billion tons every year in global CO2 emissions is needed to meet the climate goals of the Paris Agreement in limiting global warming within the range of 1.5 °C to well below 2 °C, new research revealed late Wednesday.
The first global stocktake by researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA), Stanford University and the Global Carbon Project examined progress in cutting fossil CO2 emissions since the Paris Agreement was adopted in 2015 in their study entitled, Fossil CO2 Emissions in the Post-COVID era.
The study revealed that the annual cuts of 0.16 billion tons of CO2 emissions are only 10% of the needed 1-2 billion tons throughout the 2020s and beyond to conform with the ambition of the UN Paris agreement by not exceeding global warming within the range of 1.5°C to well below 2°C.
"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," Royal Society Professor Corinne Le Quere of the University of East Anglia’s School of Environmental Sciences, one of Europe's best-respected environmental science schools, was quoted as saying.
She said the drop in CO2 emissions due to the COVID-19 measures highlights the scale of actions and of international adherence needed to tackle climate change.
"Now we need large-scale actions that are good for human health and good for the planet. It is in everyone’s best interests to build back better to speed the urgent transition to clean energy," she noted. "This pressing timeline is constantly underscored by the rapid unfolding of extreme climate impacts worldwide."
A full emissions rebound to previous CO2 emission levels this year appears unlikely, however, researchers warn that unless the COVID-19 recovery directs investments in clean energy and the green economy, emissions will likely start increasing again within a few years.
-Post-COVID investment dominated by fossil fuels
According to Prof. Rob Jackson of Stanford University, who co-authored the study, post-COVID investments continue to be overwhelmingly dominated by fossil fuels in most countries in contradiction with climate commitments, including in the United States and China.
He said that greater ambition is now backed by leaders of the three biggest emitters: China, the United States and the European Union in reaching net-zero emissions within decades and in support of the climate ambition needed at the COP26 in Glasgow.
But he warned that commitments alone are not enough and that “countries need to align post-COVID incentives with climate targets this decade, based on sound science and credible implementation plan.”
The European Union, Denmark, France, the United Kingdom, Germany and Switzerland are among the few countries that have so far implemented substantial green stimulus packages with limited investments in fossil-based activities.
-2020 - "pause button" on emissions
According to the researchers, 2020 was a "pause button" that cannot realistically continue while the world is overwhelmingly dependent on fossil fuels and requires ambitious climate policies to solve the climate crisis.
The International Energy Agency on Tuesday had announced the emission drop in 2020 as almost 2 billion tons, or a 5.8% decrease compared to 2019 levels
The study showed that last year was an exception with a 7% drop in CO2 emissions, equating to 2.6 billion tons compared to 2019 levels, due to measures taken to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Global emissions were found to have grown by 0.21 billion tons of CO2 per year during 2016-2019 compared to 2011-2015.
According to the research, 64 countries cut their CO2 emissions during 2016-2019 by 0.16 billion tons on average each year, while emissions in about 150 countries increased by 0.37 billion tons.
The study calculated that 25 of the 36 high-income countries curbed their emissions during the 2016-2019 period compared to 2011-2015 on an annual basis.
The US saw a 0.7% decrease in annual emissions, while in the European Union and the UK emissions declined by 0.9% and 3.6%, respectively.
Thirty of the 99 upper-middle-income countries also saw their emissions decrease during the same period. Emissions in Mexico dropped by 1.3%, a notable example in the group, while China's emissions increased by 0.4% during the same period, although this was much less than the 6.2% annual growth of emissions between 2011-2015.
The world has warmed by over 1°C since the Industrial Revolution because of emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities, according to the research.
By Nuran Erkul Kaya