World’s Biggest CO2 Polluters Failing to Meet Climate Goals
The world's biggest emitters of greenhouse gases are far short of meeting their climate goals, new research says. The research paints a bleak picture, no matter how you look at it.
Only one in eight of the world's most-polluting companies are on track to meet their climate goals under the Paris agreement, as Reuters reported. The researchers found that only 20 of the 160 most-polluting companies have made strides to reduce their emissions to a level necessary to keep global temperature from rising 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
Another part of the research looked into 274 of the world's highest emitting publicly listed companies and found that almost half of the world's largest companies do not even consider future risks from the global climate crisis in their operational decision-making. Almost 25 percent of the publicly listed companies that are the world's biggest-polluters do not report their greenhouse gas emissions despite regulators and central banks in many countries asking for greater disclosure of climate risks, according to The Guardian.
Researchers at the Grantham Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics carried out the study, which was funded by the Transition Pathway Initiative, a group of investors who manage about $14 trillion and are supportive of the Paris agreement. The researchers analyzed the financial disclosures of companies in key sectors including oil and gas, steel and aluminum, utilities, car manufacturing and air transport, according to The Guardian. The firms examined in the study account for more than 40 percent of emissions from public companies around the world.
"It's over three years since the Paris agreement was signed, and this research shows the corporate sector is improving its climate planning and performance, but not fast enough," said Simon Dietz, co-director of the Grantham Institute, The Guardian reported. "Cutting through the noise, we can see that barely 12% of companies plan to reduce emissions at the rate required to keep global warming below 2C."
The findings highlight the distance between the private sector's handling of the climate crisis and the transformation that scientists say is needed to stop the climate crisis from wrecking the planet, according to Reuters.
"The clock is ticking on irreversible climate change," said Adam Matthews, co-chair of the Transition Pathway Initiative and the director of ethics and engagement at the Church of England Pensions Board, in a statement, as Reuters reported. "Investors need to adopt an emergency footing otherwise the window to secure the change we need will be gone."
This study follows an open letter from investors managing more than $34 trillion in assets, nearly half the world's invested capital, to G20 governments last month stressing the urgent need to tackle global warming. Some investors have already divested from fossil fuels.
"This research shows clear leaders and laggards emerging within sectors from airlines to aluminum, and that gives investors an investment-relevant decision to make today," said Faith Ward, co-chair of the Transition Pathway Initiative, as The Guardian reported. "As the effects of climate change accelerate, we can expect to see more capital flow away from those companies that bury their head in the sand, and towards those companies aligning with a 2C pathway."
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The speed and scale of the response to COVID-19 by governments, businesses and individuals seems to provide hope that we can react to the climate change crisis in a similarly decisive manner - but history tells us that humans do not react to slow-moving and distant threats.
A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?<p>At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.</p><p>But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.</p><p><a href="https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021" target="_blank">We need to act now on our climate</a>. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Paris Agreement</a>, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.</p><p>We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.</p><p>Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.</p><p>Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.</p>
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