Greenhouse gas: the “window is closing”

 Greenhouse gas: the “window is closing”

A transformation of the economy is no longer an option but an indispensable choice. That’s what emerges from the Emission Gap Report 2022.

by Roberto Barbiero, APPA 

In the center of the image there is a small window that is closing, revealing a landscape made of flowers, water and woods. All around a gloomy sky fills the space. A ladder climbs up to the window. Some pegs are missing and others are now broken.

This is the cover image of the 2022 Emission Gap Report published by the United Nations Environment Program and updated every year in view of the COP.

Very limited steps have been taken to reduce the immense gap in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, i.e. to reduce the gap between the reduction in emissions promised by the various countries and the reduction necessary to meet the objectives set by the Paris Climate Agreement and that is to limit global warming to 2°C compared to the pre-industrial era and do everything possible to stay below 1.5°C. The temperature has already risen by 1.1°C, the time to fill this gap is getting smaller and the window is closing.

The commitment to increase the ambition to reduce emissions to 2030, made at the Glasgow COP in 2021, resulted in new and updated proposals for the so-called national voluntary commitments (Nationally Determined Contributions – NDCs) which in reality were proved to be all inadequate. Meanwhile, atmospheric concentrations of the main greenhouse gasses continue to grow although the latest data confirm that the rate of increase in CO2 emissions from fossil fuels has slowed down, from 3% per year in the 2000s to about 0.5% per year in the 2000s. last decade. Current policies, without more aggressive action, are expected to lead to global warming of 2.8°C and if the promises expressed by the NDCs are at least kept, this would allow a reduction of this warming by just 0.2-0, 4°C. 

Much more should therefore be done. To stay on track with the goal of limiting global warming to 2°C and 1.5°C, global annual greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by 30% and 45% respectively in just eight years compared to policies currently in force, to continue to decline rapidly even after 2030. The COVID-19 pandemic contributed to a dramatic reduction in global emissions from 2019 to 2020 which fell by 4.7% thanks to a sharp decline in CO2 emissions from fossil fuel use and industry. However, CO2 emissions in 2021 immediately returned to 2019 levels mainly due to the return to the use of coal.

China is confirmed as the largest emitter of greenhouse gasses (15 GtCO2eq in 2020) and leads the group of economies that are part of the G20 which are responsible for 75% of global emissions. As for per capita emissions among the large economies, the United States dominates (14tCO2eq) with a double value compared to those of the European Union countries which instead maintain the primacy of cumulative emissions from 1750 to today of CO2 coming from use of fossil fuels and cement production. In short, the responsibilities for the causes of climate change are well distributed among the most important economic powers!

While the day dedicated to decarbonisation is being celebrated at COP27, with the presentation of the Global Carbon Budget 2022 report, the slow steps forward that have been registered towards achieving the 2030 objectives lead to the conclusion that credibility remains rather low and the feasibility of achieving long-term “zero emissions” objectives (2050-2060). 88 Parties within the COP, responsible for 79% of global greenhouse gas emissions, have indicated “zero emissions” targets either through legal instruments or even just as official announcements.

The gravity of the situation and the urgency to act is contained in the report’s statements that are worth reporting verbatim: “The task facing the world is immense: it is not just a matter of identifying more ambitious goals, but also of maintaining all the commitments made. This will require not only incremental sector-by-sector change, but wide-ranging, large-scale, rapid and systemic change. It will not be easy given the pressure on policy makers at all levels. Climate action is imperative in all countries, but must be implemented simultaneously with all the Sustainable Development Goals “.

A transformation of the economy, and of the energy system in particular, is therefore no longer an option but an indispensable choice.

Action must be accelerated in the sectors most responsible for greenhouse gas emissions: energy production, industry, transport and construction with interventions that provide for different levels of responsibility between national and local governments, international cooperation, citizens, businesses, investors and banks. Some key actions are suggested such as avoiding investments in new infrastructures with a high intensity of use of fossil fuels, promoting new technologies and new market instruments.

The report then emphasizes the role of the food production system and the financial system, highlighting the great potential for improvement of the current mitigation objectives in these areas.

The food production system is responsible for a third of global greenhouse gas emissions (it is estimated that 8-10% are due to food waste and waste), but it also produces a strong environmental impact by contributing to deforestation, loss of biodiversity, the depletion of water and soils. The transformation of the food production and consumption system passes through the education of sustainable food diets, the protection of natural ecosystems and soils, the improvement of the quality of the food produced and the decarbonisation of the production chain. These are indispensable actions to guarantee health and food safety for all.

Finally, a strong reference is made to the role of the financial system, understood as a network of public and private institutions, whose investments have so far been insufficient in supporting transition policies. The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has estimated that current investment in mitigation actions must increase by a factor of three to six, and even more for developing countries. Among the actions considered to be priorities there is, for example, the introduction of a carbon price, the mobilization of central banks in coordinated actions, the increase in the effectiveness of financial markets and the creation of new markets to push innovation and low-carbon technology.

A rapid transition of the economic and financial system ultimately requires coordinated and cooperative approaches, adapted to different national and regional contexts, with indispensable public support to ensure the principles of equity and justice within and between countries themselves.

We will see if in the coming days the discussion on these issues will allow significant steps forward and if it will be translated into concrete proposals.

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