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

Wesley Martinez Da Costa / EyeEm / Getty Images

By David R. Montgomery

Would it sound too good to be true if I was to say that there was a simple, profitable and underused agricultural method to help feed everybody, cool the planet, and revitalize rural America? I used to think so, until I started visiting farmers who are restoring fertility to their land, stashing a lot of carbon in their soil, and returning healthy profitability to family farms. Now I've come to see how restoring soil health would prove as good for farmers and rural economies as it would for the environment.

Read More Show Less
skaman306 / Moment / Getty Images

By Jillian Kubala, MS, RD

Radish (Raphanus sativus) is a cruciferous vegetable that originated in Asia and Europe (1Trusted Source).

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Tinnakorn Jorruang / iStock / Getty Images

By Dan Nosowitz

The budding research on cannabidiol, or CBD, attracts a great deal of interest in the agricultural field.

Read More Show Less
Oksana Khodakovskaia / iStock / Getty Images

By Jillian Kubala, MS, RD

The loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) is a tree native to China that's prized for its sweet, citrus-like fruit.

Read More Show Less

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released new numbers that show vaping-related lung illnesses are continuing to grow across the country, as the number of fatalities has climbed to 33 and hospitalizations have reached 1,479 cases, according to a CDC update.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
During the summer, the Arctic tundra is usually a thriving habitat for mammals such as the Arctic fox. Education Images / Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Reports of extreme snowfall in the Arctic might seem encouraging, given that the region is rapidly warming due to human-driven climate change. According to a new study, however, the snow could actually pose a major threat to the normal reproductive cycles of Arctic wildlife.

Read More Show Less
Vegan rice and garbanzo beans meals. Ella Olsson / Pexels

By Alina Petre, MS, RD (CA)

One common concern about vegan diets is whether they provide your body with all the vitamins and minerals it needs.

Many claim that a whole-food, plant-based diet easily meets all the daily nutrient requirements.

Read More Show Less
A fracking well looms over a residential area of Liberty, Colorado on Aug. 19. WildEarth Guardians / Flickr

A new multiyear study found that people living or working within 2,000 feet, or nearly half a mile, of a hydraulic fracturing (fracking) drill site may be at a heightened risk of exposure to benzene and other toxic chemicals, according to research released Thursday by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE)

Read More Show Less