“Scientists believe the world is increasingly likely to experience global warming of 1.5°C over the next five years due to record levels of greenhouse gases.”
Mike Buckley is the director of the Independent Commission on UK-EU Relations and a former Labor Party adviser
Climate change continues to exceed our ability not only to control it, but also to predict it.
As recently as August 2021, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN’s climate science expert group, predicted that the 1.5° temperature limit C could be exceeded by 2040 if humanity does not act on the increase in emissions.
Eight months later, scientists believe the world is increasingly likely to experience global warming of 1.5°C over the next five years due to record levels of greenhouse gases.
There is a 48% chance that the Earth’s annual temperature will exceed 1.5C of warming, above pre-industrial levels, in one of the years by 2026, the World Meteorological Organization has said and the UK Met Office in a report released this week. This probability should continue to increase, he added.
The 1.5°C limit is important. “The 1.5C figure is not a random statistic,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. “It’s an indicator of the point at which climate impacts will become increasingly harmful to people and even to the entire planet.”
To have a chance of staying below the 1.5°C limit, scientists believe we need to cut global carbon emissions by 43% by 2030, an ambitious goal but still achievable with available technology if a sufficient political will and, above all, funding is made available.
But the so-called decisive decade got off to a bad start. Reductions in emissions caused by the pandemic shutdowns have been followed by rapid increases as economies have begun to recover lost ground, with carbon emissions reaching the highest levels on record last year.
The war in Ukraine made matters worse. Countries have rightly, and arguably far too slowly, sought to end their dependence on Russian oil and gas. However, in most cases they are trying to fill the gap with fossil fuels from other sources, instead of taking the opportunity to switch directly to renewables.
Some governments are even considering burning more coal, the dirtiest form of fossil fuel, to restore energy supplies. The British government, despite its grandiose net zero promises, is one of them, using the war to justify the opening of a coal mine in Cumbria. Encouragingly, the British steel industry refuses to use the coal of the mine in the event of opening.
The rise in emissions and the consequent increase in the likelihood of the 1.5°C limit being exceeded is a direct consequence of countries’ failure to follow through on pledges made at last year’s COP26 summit, compounded by attempts to replace Russian energy with fossil fuels from other sources. .
At the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow last year, more than 80% of the world’s countries agreed to adopt net zero targets. But there has been little political action to implement that goal in the months since, and little progress toward improving national goals ahead of the next big summit in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh this year.
Worse still, in their attempt to wean themselves off Russian fuels, some governments are not only seeking oil and gas from existing sources, but also encouraging fossil fuel companies to invest in new production sites. Rising oil and gas prices due to the war in Ukraine further spurred companies to press ahead with new fields and infrastructure that would last for decades.
If built, these oil and gas projects would push the climate beyond internationally agreed temperature limits with catastrophic global impacts.
In 2015, a high-profile analysis found that to keep the global temperature below 2°C, half of known oil reserves and a third of gas had to stay underground, along with 80% of coal.
In May 2021, a report by the International Energy Agency, previously seen as a conservative body, concluded that there could be no new deposits of oil or gas or coal mines if the world were to reach net zero by 2050.
More warnings followed. An updated scientific analysis has revealed that the proportion of fossil fuel reserves expected to remain in the ground for 1.5C has risen to 60% for oil and gas and 90% for coal, while the The UN has warned that projected fossil fuel production is ‘well in excess’ of the limit needed for 1.5C.
“The world is in a race against time,” said UN Secretary General António Guterres. “It’s time to end fossil fuel subsidies and stop the expansion of oil and gas exploration.”
Reflecting on the war in Ukraine, he said: “Countries could be so caught up in the immediate fossil fuel supply shortfall that they overlook or impose policies to reduce fossil fuel use. This is madness. Addiction to fossil fuels is mutually assured destruction.
Inaction after COP26, combined with news that fossil fuel companies are planning new oil and gas deposits, has prompted some to argue that the 1.5C target is dead. Others don’t want to give up.
The American special envoy for the climate, John Kerry, is one of them. “I refuse to [give up] because we don’t have to. We already have the technology to do what we need to do over the next 8 years,” he told the BBC World Service.
“We need to get to work,” he said, and “deploy a lot more renewable energy. We must accelerate research and development. We must live up to the promises we have made. »
He pointed to evidence that while in the short term many governments sought non-Russian fossil fuel sources, in the long term the war convinced them to accelerate the transition to renewable energy.
“What Putin has done by weaponizing gas is convince Europe that it has to move faster. In fact, Europe is going to try to switch to renewables much faster than it has originally planned. The key will be to find higher levels of funding internationally to accelerate the transition.
Some European countries have made more ambitious commitments. The German government has announced its intention to completely phase out coal by 2030, eight years earlier than the target set by the previous government. It now aims for Germany to get 80% of its electricity from renewables by then, up from the previous target of 65% – and nearly double the 42% share it supplied in 2021.
France, which has long relied on nuclear reactors for 70% of its electricity needs, has promised a major push for more renewables. Austria, even more dependent on Russian energy than Germany, is investing in renewable energy subsidies. Even Poland, one of Europe’s biggest coal consumers, is investing heavily in offshore wind power.
“What has changed now is that everyone realizes that we need to scale up renewable capacity even faster,” says Matthias Buck, Europe director of Agora Energiewende, a think tank that focuses on the transition energy. “The war shows very clearly that if you want to control your own destiny, it is better to prioritize renewable energies and end the dependence on fossil fuels.”
Spurred on by security fears sparked by the war in Ukraine, combined with pre-existing knowledge of climate risks, governments are making the right commitments, just as they did at COP26 last year.
What is needed now is for governments to combine ambition and action, not only to invest in renewable energy, but also to prevent fossil fuel companies from bringing more fossil fuel deposits online.
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