World has nine years to avert catastrophic global warming, study shows


SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt — Nations will likely burn through their remaining carbon budget in less than a decade if they do not significantly reduce greenhouse gas pollution, according to a new study, pushing the world past beyond a critical warming threshold and triggering catastrophic climate impacts.

But new gas projects – launched in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the resulting global energy crisis – would eat up 10% of that remaining carbon budget, making it virtually impossible for nations to meet the target. of the Paris agreement to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. above pre-industrial levels, according to another report released Wednesday.

The Global Carbon Budget, an annual assessment of how much emissions the world can afford to emit to stay within its warming targets, has found greenhouse gas pollution will hit an all-time high this year , with much of the growth coming from a 1% increase in carbon. carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels. Emissions in the United States and India increased from a year ago, while China and the European Union are likely to register slight declines, according to the report.

To have a chance of keeping global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius, humanity cannot release more than 380 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent over the next few decades, an equal amount to about nine years of current emissions, the report says. To meet emissions reduction targets, the world will need to reduce emissions by around 1.4 billion tonnes per year, which is comparable to the decrease in emissions in 2020, during pandemic stay-at-home orders.

Yet even as scientists warn of the world’s dangerous trajectory, leaders at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP27, have made the case for natural gas as a ‘transition fuel’. which would facilitate the transition from the world of fossil energies to renewable energies. At least four new gas projects have been flagged or announced in the past 10 days, with several African countries pledging to increase their export capacity and supply more fuel to Europe. Representatives from Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, host of next year’s climate conference, made it clear that they see COP27 as an opportunity to promote gas.

This rhetoric has alarmed scientists and activists who say expanding natural gas production could harm vulnerable communities and push the planet into a hotter, hellish future.

“Gas is not a low-carbon energy source,” said Julia Pongratz, a climatologist at the University of Munich and author of the Global Carbon Budget report released on Friday.

Pongratz said it was still technically possible for the world to avoid a temperature rise beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius – which scientists say is needed to avoid disastrous extreme weather, hunger and endemic diseases and the collapse of the ecosystems on which humanity depends.

But if fossil fuel use doesn’t drop dramatically, “in a few years we won’t be able to say it’s possible,” Pongraz said. “And then we would need to look back and say we could have done it and we didn’t. How do we explain that to our kids?

Yet campaigners also say they are encouraged by the growing willingness of other countries to embrace a fossil fuel phase-out. The Pacific island nation of Tuvalu joined Vanuatu this week in calling for a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty. Kenyan President William Ruto said his country would not develop its hydrocarbon deposits but would instead invest only in clean energy. The Norwegian state energy company on Thursday suspended plans to develop a new oil field in the Arctic.

The gas study by research group Climate Action Tracker shows that the planned projects would more than double current global liquefied natural gas capacity, generating around 47 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2050.

According to the Energy Information Administration, burning gas for energy emits about half the carbon dioxide equivalent of burning coal. But the liquefaction of natural gas for transportation and other parts of the gas production process can leak methane, a particularly potent greenhouse gas.

The planned expansion goes beyond what is needed to replace interrupted supplies of Russian fuel, according to the study. And it goes against the conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the International Energy Agency that there can be no new development of gas, oil and coal if humanity wants to prevent dangerous warming beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius.

“The world seems to have gone overboard in its attempt to respond to the energy crisis,” said climate scientist Bill Hare, founder of partner organization Climate Action Tracker Climate Analytics and author of the report.

The only way these projects would be compatible with the 1.5C target, Hare said, would be if they closed before the end of their useful life, creating the risk of converting facilities from a billion in “stranded assets”.

Both reports contrast with the way fossil fuels – particularly natural gas – were discussed at COP27.

Nations made history at last year’s conference when they agreed on the need to phase out coal and fossil fuels – the first time an explicit reference to the main drivers of warming has been included in a COP decision text. On the sidelines of this conference, a group of more than 20 countries pledged to stop public investment in fossil fuel projects abroad by the end of this year. But now some of those same countries are backing down amid a frantic search for alternatives to Russian gas.

Fossil fuel projects were stalled a year ago. Now they are making a comeback.

This week, the President of the United Arab Emirates and next host of the COP, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, told leaders that the United Arab Emirates would continue to supply oil and gas “for as long as the world needs it. “. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has called for a brief increase in fossil fuel production, saying “without energy security, there is no energy transition”. Tanzanian Energy Minister January Makamba has announced a new $40 billion LNG export project. And although German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has publicly declared “there must be no global fossil fuel renaissance”, his country has also encouraged countries like Algeria and Senegal to increase their gas production.

Meanwhile, an analysis of conference attendees by advocacy group Global Witness has revealed a sharp rise in the number of fossil fuel industry representatives since last year’s COP. Some 200 people linked to oil, gas and coal are part of national delegations, the group said on Thursday, and another 236 are here with trade groups and other non-governmental organizations.

“I’m really worried,” said Lorraine Chiponda, an environmental justice campaigner from Zimbabwe who co-hosts a coalition of advocacy groups called Don’t Gas Africa. “It’s supposed to be a space to discuss climate solutions, but instead it’s being used to fuel fossil fuels.”

African nations are among the most vulnerable to climate change and cannot afford to build new fossil fuel infrastructure that will continue to heat the planet, she said. Local communities have also suffered as gas projects displace residents and generate air pollution.

European leaders’ rationale that new gas projects are a short-term solution to an energy crisis rings hollow, Chiponda added, given that some 600 million people in Africa do not have access to electricity.

“Isn’t this a crisis? she asked.

Catherine Abreu, director of the non-profit organization Destination Zero, which calls for an end to the use of fossil fuels, said the gas push was closely linked to the other issue dominating discussions in Sharm el- Sheikh: demand from developing countries for increased financial support from richer countries. as they deal with the consequences of climate change.

Pressure from developing countries for a loss and damage fund, through which large emitters would pay for irreversible climate damage like the recent floods in Pakistan, faces an uphill battle amid skepticism from the United States and other industrialized countries.

At COP27, flood-ravaged Pakistan pushes to make polluting countries pay

Meanwhile, rich countries have still not delivered on their overdue pledge to provide $100 billion to help vulnerable areas reduce emissions and adapt to the warming already underway. According to Climate Action Tracker, which also assesses countries’ climate finance pledges, every wealthy country’s finance pledges fall short.

“There is such an investment imperative in this region, and the only type of investment available is for oil and gas,” Abreu said.

This tension was evident at a meeting of African leaders on Tuesday, where African Development Bank President Akinwumi Adesina said “Africa needs gas” to develop.

“We want to make sure we have access to electricity,” he said, as the room erupted in applause. “We do not want to become the museum of poverty in the world.

Pongratz, one of the authors of the global carbon budget report, hoped the findings would inform negotiators as the high-stakes and highly technical part of the climate conference begins.

“We portrayed the urgency of the problem,” she said. “No one has the excuse of not knowing these numbers.”

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