Quantcast

3 Biggest Fossil Fuel Consumers Fall 'Far Short of Fair' to Contain Global Warming

Climate

Pledges by the three titans of greenhouse gas emission—Europe, the U.S. and China, which are the three biggest fossil fuel consumers—fall “far short of fair” and may not be nearly enough to contain global warming, according to new research.

In the complex game of power politics, development economics, environmental campaigning, climate science and greenhouse gas accounting that will characterize the forthcoming UN climate summit in Paris, COP21, in December, the most important components so far are the declarations of intent made by the most developed nations.

Delegates gather for the Bonn Climate Change Conference. Photo credit: IISD Reporting Services

The U.S. has announced plans to reduce emissions by 28 percent by 2025 and 83 percent by 2050. The EU is aiming for 40 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050. China has said its emissions will “peak” by 2025 and then start declining, and it aims to improve energy efficiency by 60 to 65 percent.

The question then is: does this set the world on course to contain global warming to 2°C?

Harsh Demands

The answer is probably “no,” say Glen Peters, senior research fellow at the Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo, Susan Solomon, professor of atmospheric chemistry and climate science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Pierre Friedlingstein, chair in mathematical modeling of climate systems at the University of Exeter, UK.

They have been looking at the sums, and they report in Environmental Research Letters that the promises of the big three translate into harsh demands for the rest of the world.

If the 2°C target is to be met, the remainder of the world would have to commit to per capita carbon dioxide emissions somewhere between seven and 14 times lower than the EU, U.S. or China by 2030.

Carbon accounting—the calculations that involve how much carbon dioxide can safely be emitted before temperatures rise to dangerous levels—is notoriously difficult, and under continuous revision.

But one working estimate right now is that the world can burn coal, oil and natural gas at a level that will have dumped 3.7 trillion tonnes of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere before the global average temperatures notch up 2°C above the levels before the Industrial Revolution.

Since humans have been burning fossil fuels at increasing rates for the last 200 years, that leaves just 1 trillion tonnes—about 30 years’ worth at the current levels—before the planetary thermometer rises to the danger level.

The study puts it bluntly: when combined, the European, U.S. and Chinese pledges don’t leave much room for other countries to burn fossil fuels to power their economies.

If any agreement in Paris is to be “globally inclusive and effective in the long term”, then by implication the rich nations will have to do a lot more than they have pledged to do.

Struggling to Develop

“The challenge of the problem is that we have about 7 billion people on the planet, and about 1 billion of us live pretty well,” Professor Solomon says.

“The other 6 billion are struggling to develop, and if they develop using carbon, as we did, the planet is going to get quite hot. And hot is, of course, just the beginning of the story in terms of what climate change actually means.”

The scientists calculate that, even if the EU, China and the U.S. fulfill their pledges, it commits the planet to a warming of at least 3°C. Even a rise of 2°C would represent a huge change—resulting in sea level rise, a greater frequency of extremes of temperature and dramatic shifts of climatic conditions.

In 2003, an unprecedented heatwave in Europe caused at least 10,000 deaths, with some estimating many times more than that figure.

“That summer was about 2°C hotter than an average European summer,” Professor Solomon says.

“By 2050, every summer in Europe will probably be 2°C hotter than average, if we keep going the way we’re going right now. Three degrees, in my opinion, is a really frightening change.”

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

4 Astounding Photos of Hurricane Patricia From Space

24 States Sue Obama Over Clean Power Plan

Find Out What Humans Will Look Like in 1,000 Years

Justice Denied for Murdered Thai Activist Who Defended His Community Against Coal

 

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

New pine trees grow from the forest floor along the North Fork of the Flathead River on the western boundary of Glacier National Park on Sept. 16, 2019 near West Glacier, Montana. Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

By Alex Kirby

New forests are an apparently promising way to tackle global heating: the trees absorb carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas from human activities. But there's a snag, because permanently lower river flows can be an unintended consequence.

Read More
Household actions lead to changes in collective behavior and are an essential part of social movements. Pixabay / Pexels

By Greg McDermid, Joule A Bergerson, Sheri Madigan

Hidden among all of the troubling environmental headlines from 2019 — and let's face it, there were plenty — was one encouraging sign: the world is waking up to the reality of climate change.

So now what?

Read More
Sponsored
Logging state in the U.S. is seen representing some of the consequences humans will face in the absence of concrete action to stop deforestation, pollution and the climate crisis. Mark Newman / Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images

Talk is cheap, says the acting executive secretary of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, who begged governments around the world to make sure that 2020 is not another year of conferences and empty promises, but instead is the year to take decisive action to stop the mass extinction of wildlife and the destruction of habitat-sustaining ecosystems, as The Guardian reported.

Read More
The people of Kiribati have been under pressure to relocate due to sea level rise. A young woman wades through the salty sea water that flooded her way home on Sept. 29, 2015. Jonas Gratzer / LightRocket via Getty Images

Refugees fleeing the impending effects of the climate crisis cannot be forced to return home, according to a new decision by the United Nations Human Rights Committee, as CNN reported. The new decision could open up a massive wave of legal claims by displaced people around the world.

Read More
The first day of the Strike WEF march on Davos on Jan. 18, 2020 near Davos, Switzerland. The activists want climate justice and think the WEF is for the world's richest and political elite only. Kristian Buus / In Pictures via Getty Images

By Ashutosh Pandey

Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg is returning to the Swiss ski resort of Davos for the 2020 World Economic Forum with a strong and clear message: put an end to the fossil fuel "madness."

Read More