Wildfires, droughts, floods – the number of extreme weather events is on the rise, and scientists associate this with climate change. The world is reviving after a year’s lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, and together with the economy, greenhouse gas emissions are rapidly returning to dock-like heights. This is bad news for a planet that hasn’t stopped heating up despite a viral respite, shutdown factories, empty roads, and an airplane-free sky.
“We need to act immediately. There is no vaccine from the pollution of the planet,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau described the mood of world leaders gathered for Thursday’s virtual climate summit, BBC reports.
On the eve of the summit, international organizations warned that the pandemic distracted the world from the problem of global warming, but did not eliminate it.
“The world is on the brink of an abyss,” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said after listening to the report of the World Meteorological Organization. It says that the last decade was the hottest on record, and no matter what mankind does, this trend cannot be reversed in the coming decades – you can only mitigate its consequences.
“After this report, it is clear – not a day is lost. The climate is changing, and it is very costly for the planet and the people inhabiting it. This year should be a year of decisive action. All countries must commit to neutralize emissions by 2050, and by 2030 to reduce them by 45% compared to 2010,” Guterres said.
To curb warming, nearly every country in the world has agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to keep the planet’s temperature rise within 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. This goal is enshrined in the Paris Agreement, but environmentalists have long warned that it is outdated.
The Paris Agreement received a second wind after the change of power in the United States in the November 2020 elections. Republicans ceded the White House and Senate to Democrats, and new President Joe Biden overturned Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.
Biden is happy, Greta is not
Moreover, he decided not to wait for the November climate summit in Glasgow, where countries will decide whether to take on increased commitments to reduce emissions, and invited four dozen world leaders to a virtual meeting this week, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Xi Jinping is the leader of China, the only country in the world that smokes the sky more than the United States.
By Friday, at the conclusion of the two-day summit, the countries, which account for half of the global economy, will pledge to cut emissions to meet the Paris Agreement targets. Then it will be easier in Glasgow to negotiate the additional reduction required by scientists.
In any case, this is the hope of the White House, which decided to prove the seriousness of its intentions and not only returned to the club of fighters against global warming, but also took on increased climate commitments.
Biden announced on Thursday that the United States – the second largest source of emissions after China – will halve emissions by 2030 from 2005 levels. Under the previous Democratic President Barack Obama, the promises were about half as modest. And Trump abandoned them altogether.
“The cost of inaction is growing every day. The United States is not going to delay. We must act more decisively. The time has come for action – for all of us,” the American president said at the summit.
The day before Biden’s cry, the Old World played ahead of the curve. The European Union raised its target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 to 55% from the previous 40% compared to 1990. He pledged not by a declaration or a statement, but by law – it would be almost impossible to win back, and certainly not as easy as with a change in the US president.
Promises from the allies followed. Japan raised the bar to 46% from 26%, Canada – to 40-45% from 30%.
The celebration of global unity in the climatic emergency was spoiled by activist Greta Thunberg. She was not invited to the summit, but on the same day she spoke (virtually) nearby – in Congress, at one of the committees of the House of Representatives.
“It’s 2021. And we are still debating, and moreover, subsidizing fossil fuels at the expense of taxpayers – directly or indirectly. It’s a shame,” 18-year-old Greta scolded congressmen, faithful to her harsh manner of dealing with politicians and officials.
“Here is proof for you that we still do not understand what an extreme climatic situation the planet is in … You just gave up. So I came to tell you that, unlike you, my generation is without a fight won’t give up,” she said.
Before the high meeting, the severity of the problem of global warming was emphasized by several international organizations at once.
Meteorologists have confirmed that 2020 has become one of the three warmest years on record, with temperatures already 1.2° C above the pre-industrial level of 1850-1900.
“All the key climate indicators presented in this report indicate unrelenting and ongoing climate change, the increasingly frequent occurrence and intensification of extreme events, as well as serious losses and damage affecting people, society and the economy,” the Secretary General said at the presentation of the study. World Meteorological Organization Petteri Taalas.
The changes on the planet caused by warming only add fuel to the fire. Large-scale fires are causing emissions and deforestation. Melting ice in the Arctic is raising temperatures, and the thawing of permafrost releases methane into the atmosphere.
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In 2020, the minimum extent of Arctic sea ice after melting in summer for only the second time on record has dropped to less than 4 million square kilometers, the report said. The sea ice retreat in the summer of 2020 in the Laptev Sea was the earliest in the history of satellite observations. And the Greenland ice sheet has shrunk to an almost minimal size due to the breaking off of icebergs.
“Since the mid-1980s, surface air temperatures in the Arctic have risen at least twice the global average. This has potentially serious consequences not only for Arctic ecosystems, but also for the global climate,” meteorologists warn.
2020 was in the top three hottest years even amid a global lockdown and a pandemic: the economy collapsed, business activity, transportation and energy consumption fell sharply. And this despite the fact that 2020 was the year of the La Niña phenomenon – a decrease in temperatures in the Pacific Ocean.
As scientists warned, the local cooling caused by La Niña did not break the general trend, since the wind only temporarily drove heat from the ocean surface into the depths and lowered the surface temperature, but did not change the total amount of energy that determines the climate on the planet.
“In 2019 and 2020, concentrations of major greenhouse gases continued to rise … The economic downturn caused a temporary reduction in new greenhouse gas emissions, but this did not have a discernible effect on atmospheric concentrations,” the meteorologists note in the report.
And in 2021, the concentration of gases, which scientists unanimously call the cause of global warming, will continue to increase.
Emissions are back
Humanity will only add problems to the planet. With the economy recovering from the quarantine, industry and transportation have begun to smoke the skies with the same zeal, the International Energy Agency (IEA) warned on Tuesday, the organization that wealthy fossil fuel-consuming countries rely on to forecast global energy demand.
“Many developed countries are rapidly vaccinating their populations and massively subsidizing the exit from the coronavirus crisis, which promises a rapid economic recovery and a recovery in energy demand in 2021,” the report says. Fossil fuels will account for a large share of this increase.
Thus, the demand for coal, according to the IEA, will grow 60% faster than the increase in energy supplies from all renewable sources.
“Largely because of this, greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere will increase by 5%, which will negate the 80% reduction in 2020. As a result, emissions will almost return to the previous level and will be only 1.2% lower than in 2019”, – predicts the IEA, noting that the estimates are very rough, since the point in the pandemic has not yet been set.
The main growth in demand for coal is provided by Asian countries, primarily China. They coped with the virus faster than others and are recovering the economy at a faster pace. In addition, developing countries do not shun coal, since poverty reduction and the conquest of the world market are understandable for them as a priority for ecology.
Therefore, developed economies united in the club of rich OECD countries should become leaders in abandoning coal, said UN Secretary General Guterres. “The OECD countries should completely abandon coal by 2030, and all others by 2040. And that’s enough to build coal-fired power plants,” he said.