Greenhouse gas ( GHG) emissions are warming the globe and driving climate change. The impacts of these GHGs are not some future concern they are being felt here and now. We need to look no further than the steady stream of record breaking warming. Last month was the warmest November on record, and 2020 is expected to be one of the hottest years on record. Month after month, year after year, and decade after decade we are setting new temperature records that are exacerbating wildfires, droughts and storms.
According to a 2019 study there is currently more CO2 in the atmosphere than there has been in at least 3 million years. This study corroborates other more recent studies which show that we are headed headlong towards catastrophe. There are now more than 410 parts per million, or more than twice the levels that would exist without humans. According to a recent UN Intergovernmental Panel on climate change (IPCC), global emissions will need to be reduced by half by 2030 if we are to keep temperatures from rising beyond acceptable limits (1.5 degrees Celsius or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit as agreed to in the Paris Climate Accord).
These concerns are reiterated and amplified in the 2020 Emissions Gap Report. This annual report looks at where we are compared to where we need to be in terms of GHGs (see previous reports 2012, 2018 and 2019). It specifically predicts where the current trajectory will take us by 2030 and compares this to where we need to be to stay within prescribed temperature limits. The 2020 forecast suggests we are on track to exceed these limits by a considerable margin.
GHGs are caused directly and indirectly by human activity especially energy (73%). Other sources of GHGs are agriculture, forestry and land use (18%), waste (3%) and industry (5%)*. Fossil fuel use is a major contributor of GHGs and coal powered power plants especially harmful. Efforts to manage emissions demands major reductions in our use of fossil fuels. A 2019 study by the International Energy Agency (IEA) showed that fossil fuels accounted for almost 70 percent of global energy demand. In 2019, total greenhouse gas emissions reached a new high of 59.1 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e). Emissions have increased from an average 1.4 percent per year since 2010, to 2.6 percent in 2019. A total of 33.1 billion tons of CO2e were dumped into the atmosphere in 2018 and coal power spewed a record breaking 10 billion tons of carbon into the air in 2019. To have a shot of keeping temperatures within acceptable limits coal use will need to cut fossil fuel use in half and slashed coal use by almost 80 percent by 2030.
Rising levels of GHGs have been described as “very worrisome” by Michael Mehling, deputy director of the Center for Energy and Environment Policy Research at MIT. “To me, all this reflects the fact that climate policies around the globe, despite some limited pockets of progress, remain woefully inadequate,” Mehling said. Rob Jackson, a professor of Earth system science at Stanford University succinctly stated, “We are in deep trouble,” adding, “The climate consequences are catastrophic. I don’t use any word like that very often. But we are headed for disaster.”
These observations add to the plethora of research that warns us to act soon if we want to avoid the collapse of civilization. If we are to avert disaster we need to urgently reduce global emissions .The task before us is daunting and any hope of keeping temperatures from breaching the upper temperature threshold limits will require near-term consorted actions of all levels of government, as well as businesses and individuals.