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Rich Countries Fail to Agree to Rapid Decline of Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Climate

Some of the world’s richest countries are not doing enough to limit their greenhouse gas emissions, according to new analysis.

The report by Climate Action Tracker (CAT) says that all the G7 countries and the member states of the European Union (EU) have so far agreed to keep their emissions at around their present levels for the next 15 years, instead of cutting them fast.

With the G7 countries meeting in Germany yesterday and today, CAT—a consortium of four research organizations—has looked at the combined INDCs of all G7 governments and the EU, who account together for around 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and 40 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP).

The combined climate plans for the G7 and the EU mark “a small step towards the right track to hold warming to two degrees Celsius, but they still leave a substantial emissions gap,” according to analysts from CAT, which reports on countries’ emissions commitments and performance.

The gap yawns so wide that the present level of commitment shown by the two blocs would go less than one-third of the way to staying within the two degrees Celsius limit, they find.

Extreme risk

And they say there is “an extreme risk” that this low level of ambition could continue until 2030 to keep emissions so high that it would be impossible to stay within the two degrees Celsius warming limit, agreed by the world’s governments.

The concern is based on what climate negotiators call the blocs’ Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), undertakings given by governments about what each of them will do to implement the global agreement on tackling climate change that they hope to reach at the UN climate change conference in Paris later this year.

With the G7 countries meeting in Germany yesterday and today, CAT—a consortium of four research organizations—has looked at the combined INDCs of all G7 governments and the EU, who account together for around 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and 40 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP).

The current policies of the G7 and the EU, CAT says, are projected only to stabilize emissions through 2030 at close to present levels, despite the need for a rapid decline in emissions.

The combined effect of the G7 and EU INDCs for 2025 and 2030 would bring the group to no more than 20-30 percent of the reductions needed to stay within the two degrees Celsius limit, or the more stringent 1.5 degrees Celsius threshold for which many climate scientists are pressing.

The authors say the G7 and EU governments must significantly improve on the INDCs they have submitted so far before the Paris talks start on Nov. 30. They also urge that the INDC commitments should be limited in time—for example, to the five years from 2021 to 2025—to avoid locking in emissions levels that are inconsistent with the two degrees Celsius and 1.5 degrees Celsius thresholds.

Major steps

“This gap shows us that it’s very clear the G7 and EU need to urgently revise their current policies,” says Bill Hare, of Climate Analytics, one of the consortium members. “They need to review—and increase—their stated climate plans before Paris, so that the Paris Agreement can make major steps towards setting the world on a below-two-degrees-Celsius pathway.

“The G7+EU INDCs on the table now show there is an extreme risk of locking in, until 2030, high emissions levels that are inconsistent with holding warming below two degrees Celsius and to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Waiting 15 years from today to increase emissions reductions—and 10 years after the 2020 agreement comes into force—could be very dangerous for the planet.”

The authors say the EU’s policies would bring it close to achieving its INDC in 2030, but the U.S., Canada and Japan still have a lot of work to do. They call Canada’s INDC and Japan’s draft INDC “inadequate.”

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

Michael Schade / Twitter

At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.

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