This past week has seen a tsunami of deeply worrying reports about the worsening climate crisis, ahead of the COP27 climate summit. COP27 is the 27th UNFCCC climate conference taking place in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. The event runs from Sunday 6th November to Friday 18th November 2022.
The language used in the reports is both shocking and depressing, and should give each and every single one of us enormous concern. The science is clearly settled and the people are desperately calling for action. Now politicians must act – for the messages below are too loud and from sources too authoritative to be ignored.
UNFCCC – NDC Synthesis Report
This report looked at NDCs, which are targets put forward by countries to reduce their carbon emissions. These will ultimately determine whether we meet globally agreed climate targets.
The latest UNFCCC synthesis report has shown that based on current commitments, emissions will likely rise by “10.6% by 2030, compared to 2010 levels.” To put this in context, the IPCC has suggested, “that GHG emissions need to be cut 43% by 2030.”
As such, this means we’re currently on the path towards 2.5C of warming by 2100. This is well above the 1.5C target agreed in Paris and puts us in unchartered and dangerous territory. The Guardian was more blunt saying that current climate pledges put us on the pathway towards “catastrophic climate breakdown”.
Commenting in the press release, Simon Stiell, Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change, said that, “At the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow last year, all countries agreed to revisit and strengthen their climate plans. The fact that only 24 new or updated climate plans were submitted since COP 26 is disappointing. Government decisions and actions must reflect the level of urgency, the gravity of the threats we are facing, and the shortness of the time we have remaining to avoid the devastating consequences of runaway climate change.”
The press release and reports can be accessed here.
Lancet Countdown – 2022 Global Report
“The health of people around the world is at the mercy of a persistent fossil fuel addiction.” This is the headline you’ll find in the new 2022 Lancet Countdown report site. The Lancet is one of the world’s oldest and most-respected medical journals. Working with UCL, alongside 35 partners across the world, the Lancet Countdown seeks to better understand how health will be impacted by the climate crisis.
The report pulls no punches. Looking at 43 indicators across five areas, the report says “that the world is at a critical juncture.” Climate change is already affecting people’s health, and the harms being done are also being amplified. Despite this, governments and corporations still “prioritise fossil fuel interests.” Not only is this detrimental for our collective wellbeing, but it’s also “jeopardising a liveable future.”
What would happen if fossil fuel companies pursued their plans? An interactive summary of the findings says that, “They would lock the world into a fatally warmer future with catastrophic health impacts.” The report authors seem to feel the same incredulity as the rest of us when they refer to the fact that the UNFCCC climate summits have being going on for almost 30 years, and yet, “Countries and companies continue to make choices that threaten the health and survival of people worldwide.”
Another key finding was that out of 95 countries, only 48 have put together a ‘climate change and health vulnerability and adaptation assessment’. From these 48, the allocation of resources only changed in 9 countries. To show how things could change if governments treated the crisis like an emergency, around 3.3m lives that are lost to PM2.5 anthropogenic air pollution, and 1.2m lives that are lost as a result of burning fossil fuels, could be saved.
One glimmer of hope in the report was that 80% of investments directed towards electricity generation in 2021, were for zero-carbon sources. The report calls for “a health-centred, low-carbon response” to the climate crisis, which would offer humanity the chance to “not only survive, but thrive.”
This hard-hitting report from one of the world’s leading medical journals should be the biggest call to action – that this is barely making the news says a lot about the predicament we’re in. The report can be explored here.
State of Climate Action 2022
The State of Climate Action 2022 report seeks to show the gaps in climate action, which need to be urgently addressed. Using the IPCC suggestions for what the world needs to do to stay below 1.5C warming, the report looked at 40 indicators of progress towards the targets for 2030 and 2050. Examples of indicators include stopping deforestation and phasing out coal power generation.
The report found that out of 40 indicators, “None are on track to reach their 2030 targets.” Furthermore, five of the 40 indicators are heading in the complete wrong direction. While some parts of the world are reducing coal use for power generation, some regions are actually increasing usage. Gas-based electricity generation “is still rising globally.” As such, “these trends are offsetting gains in zero-carbon power.”
There are some positives to take from the report including:
- Solar power grew by 47% between 2019 and 2021.
- Wind power grew by 31% between 2019 and 2021.
- Electric vehicles accounted for around 9% of passenger car sales in 2021
- Both battery electric and fuel cell electric bus sales grew to 44% in 2021
However, the world is still nowhere near to being on track for tackling the climate crisis and staying within ‘safe’ limits of warming. In order to achieve targets in line with 1.5C limit, a number of steps need to be taken in the short-term including:
- Coal power stations must be phased out six times faster than at present (equivalent to 925 plants each year)
- Reduce emissions from cement production around ten times faster than at present
- Public transport across the world needs to be expanded around six times faster than now.
- Deforestation needs to be reduced 2.5 times as fast as at present
- Switch to healthier diets around five times as fast as now
- Fossil fuel subsidies need to be phased out five times faster than now
The report can be accessed here.
World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) – Greenhouse Gas Bulletin
The main finding in this report, is that all three of the main greenhouse gases levels are increasing and in 2021, they reached record highs. Not only did they reach record highs, but methane saw the largest year-on-year increase in close to 40 years, when measurements first started.
According to the press release, the reason behind the large methane increase is “not clear, but seems to be a result of both biological and human-induced processes.” The Guardian has suggested that the increase could be a result of ruminant animals, rice paddies and microbes in wetlands.
According to the press release, the concentrations of the three main greenhouse gases are as follows:
- Carbon dioxide – 415.7ppm (149% above preindustrial levels)
- Methane – 1908ppb (262% above pre-industrial levels)
- Nitrous Oxide – 334.5ppb (124% above pre-industrial levels)
The findings show that carbon dioxide emissions “have rebounded since the COVID-related lockdowns in 2020.” The press release also gave a breakdown of where anthropogenic emissions between 2011-2020 have ended up:
- ~48% – atmosphere
- ~26% – ocean
- ~29% – land
The report shows that radiative forcing, the warming effect of greenhouse gases on the climate, increased by almost 50%, between 1990 and 2021. Most of this (80%) was driven by carbon dioxide. Unsurprisingly, the report showed that the seven warmest years have occurred between 2015 to 2021.
The full WMO bulletin is available to download here.
UN Environment Programme (UNEP) – Emissions Gap Report 2022
“Under current policies, the world is headed for 2.8 degrees of global heating by the end of the century. In other words, we are headed for a global catastrophe.” These were the words of António Guterres, the UN Secretary-General, as UNEP launched the Emissions Gap Report 2022.
This annual report seeks to show the difference between current forecast climate emissions for 2030, compared to where carbon emissions need to be. The takeaway point from the report is that, “The international community is falling far short of the Paris goals, with no credible pathway to 1.5°C in place.” It then stated that, “Only an urgent system-wide transformation can avoid climate disaster.”
The report found that policies currently in place would lead to 2.8C of warming by the end of the century. To put this in context, the Paris Agreement sought to limit warming to no more than 2C, with an ambition of preventing the 1.5C target from being breached. Even if all the conditional and unconditional pledges made by countries were enacted, we would still be on course for a temperature rise of 2.4C to 2.6C by 2100.
The report’s Executive Summary, says that the G20 members account for 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Around 55% of emissions come from the seven largest emitters (China, the EU27, India, Indonesia, Brazil, Russia and the US), and from international transport. “Our world cannot afford any more greenwashing, fake movers or late movers,” said António Guterres, in his message released alongside the report.
When comparing policies currently in place, to those pledged in unconditional and conditional NDCs, they are likely to result in only 5% and 10% less emissions respectively. However to stand a chance of limiting warming to 2C, they need to reduce emissions by 30%. To limit warming to the Paris Agreement target of 1.5C, they need to reduce emissions by 45%. In other words, “The world needs to reduce greenhouse gases by unprecedented levels over the next eight years.” The report also notes that emissions have to continue a rapid decline after 2030.
“The recommendations in today’s report are clear. End our reliance on fossil fuels. Avoid a lock-in of new fossil fuel infrastructure. Invest massively in renewables,” said António Guterres. To create a global low-carbon economy is anticipated to require investments of around $4-6 trillion each year, according to the report. To put this in context, fossil fuels were estimated to be subsidised to the tune of $5.9 trillion in 2020. It would therefore appear that there is scope for a rapid transformation, using these immoral subsidies to create a cleaner, greener and safer world.
António Guterres ended his message with incredibly stern words, which world leaders would have to be idiotic to ignore, “As today’s report makes clear, we are headed for economy-destroying levels of global heating. We need climate action on all fronts – and we need it now. We must close the emissions gap before climate catastrophe closes in on us all.”
The 2022 Emissions Gap Report can be accessed here.
International Energy Agency (IEA) – World Energy Outlook 2022
According to the IEA, “The world is in the midst of its first global energy crisis – a shock of unprecedented breadth and complexity.” Costs of some fossil fuels have risen dramatically. Natural gas spot purchases “have reached levels never seen before,” while coal has seen record prices. Oil surpassed $100 per barrel in mid-2022, but has since fallen in price.
The IEA believes that the energy crisis will lead to a massive windfall for fuel producers of $2 trillion more than their net income in 2021. Due to higher energy costs, poorer households are suffering. The IEA estimates that 75 million people who’ve gained electric access recently are likely to not be able to pay for it. As such, around 100 million people might be forced to rely on firewood for their cooking. “For the first time since we started tracking it, the total number of people worldwide without electricity access has started to rise,” writes the IEA in the Executive Summary.
Some countries have increased short-term use of coal power generation and oil power generation, in addition to extending the life of nuclear power plants and use of renewable energy, in order to cope with the energy crisis. This ramp up of fossil fuels as we head for climate breakdown is unbelievably short-sighted.
The IEA also addressed a myth that is often recycled by politicians and some media outlets, in regards to net zero commitments and climate targets being blamed for the rise in energy costs. The IEA says, “There is scant evidence for this. In the most affected regions, higher shares of renewables were correlated with lower electricity prices.”
Fossil fuels have accounted for around 80% of the energy mix for several decades. Under today’s stated policies (known as the STEPS scenario), this would only fall to 75% in 2030, and over 60% by 2050. This is linked to a 2.5C rise in temperatures by 2100, showing how far off course we are. However, the Guardian reports that carbon emissions produced by energy generation are likely to peak in 2025.
Some goods news from the report shows that supply chains for solar PV and batteries “are expanding at rates that support higher global ambition.” Jobs could rise from 33 million today to 55 million in 2030 under the Announced Pledges Scenario (APS). Under STEPS, investment in clean energy should rise from $1.3 trillion today to $2 trillion by 2030. However in order to reach the insufficient target of net zero by 2050, investment would need to be $4 trillion by 2030.
Unfortunately if investment in clean energy doesn’t meet the Net Zero Emissions by 2050 (NZE) Scenario, “Then higher investment in oil and gas would be needed to avoid further fuel price volatility.” This statement is absurd as it sounds. If we don’t invest significantly in clean energy, the IEA says that more investment would have to be directed into fossil fuels to stabilise prices. It therefore seems clear cut what we need to do, all indicators are pointing in one direction now.
A summary of helpful acronyms in the IEA report:
- Stated Policies Scenario (STEPS) – “The trajectory implied by today’s policy settings”
- Announced Pledges Scenario (APS) – “Assumes that all aspirational targets announced by governments are met on time and in full, including their long-term net zero and energy access goals”
- Net Zero Emissions by 2050 (NZE) Scenario – “Maps out a way to achieve a 1.5 °C stabilisation in the rise in global average temperatures, alongside universal access to modern energy by 2030”
The full IEA World Energy Outlook 2022 report can be accessed here.
International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) – Mapping the road to 1.5°C
“The world must set itself on a pathway consistent with limiting global warming to 1.5°C to avoid the most disruptive and tragic consequences of climate change on people, ecosystems, and economies. This is extremely urgent and every fraction of a degree matters.” This is how the IISD report frames the crisis we’re in.
It’s estimated that within about 8 years, our remaining carbon budget will be used up. In order to achieve the 1.5C target, investments in solar and wind need to be around $830 billion by 2030. Based on planned investments, there will be a $450 billion shortfall – a massive gap that needs to rapidly close. However, the amount forecast for oil and gas exploration could total $570 billion by 2030. If this investment was instead directed towards solar and wind, it would cover the investment gap. As such, the report states that it would still be possible to achieve the 1.5C target, but urgent action would be required and governments would need to go beyond their Paris Agreement pledges.
The report looked at net zero pledges which have been challenged in legal cases. Some examples include:
- Shell (in the Netherlands) in regards to their 2030 climate targets
- Santos (in Australia) in regards to their 2040 net-zero target
- BMW and Volkswagen (in Germany) in regards to phasing out combustion engines in new vehicles
- Arla (in Sweden) in regards to their claim about their “net-zero climate footprint”
- KLM Royal Dutch Airlines (in the Netherlands) in regards to their “Fly responsible” campaign
The report lists seven recommendations for achieving the 1.5C target. Governments should:
- Prevent development or licensing of new oil and gas fields
- Provide better support for solar and wind roll-out
- Create a better environment for investment to flow into clean energy
- Avoid increasing reliance on gas (with a particular focus on European countries) due to the ongoing energy crisis
- Reform investment treaties to make them compatible with the 1.5C target. This can be achieved in various ways. One option is through a moratorium on licensing and permits for oil and gas exploration. A second option is to create a system for compensation for waiving treaty rights. Another option is to terminate investment treaties that are incompatible with the 1.5C target.
- Regulation of corporations at national and international levels, so that they’re operating in line with the Paris Agreement goals. This could also involve using third-parties to verify their disclosure practices.
- Create mandatory criteria for companies in regards to their reporting methodologies.
The full IISD report can be accessed here.
These climate reports contain some of the starkest and bleakest warnings we’ve ever had. While tinged with some positivity, the overall feeling is still being very far from where we need to be. Leaders have largely been ignoring the threat of the climate crisis for over 34 years. Oil companies have played a major role in blocking climate action, and have made insane profits all the while, leading to calls for windfall taxes. But with a deafening clamour of scientific and medical reports all calling for urgent action to avoid a disastrous future, the time for obfuscation is clearly over.
Leaders need to step up to the climate crisis, or step down to make way for people who will. It’s in everyone’s interest for climate action to begin in earnest in line with all the solutions mentioned above. The time for delay is over. The time for change is here. It’s up to world leaders to determine whether they will be delivering that change, or become swept away by it.
More on COP
To understand more about the upcoming COP summit, my explainer guide from COP26 explains the history behind the summit and why it matters. I also covered the first week of last year’s COP26 summit here, and wrote a final analysis here.
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