Tenfold increase in emissions cuts needed


New research shows 64 countries cut their fossil CO2 emissions during 2016-2019, but the rate of reduction needs to increase tenfold to meet the Paris Agreement aims to tackle climate change.

This first global stocktake by researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA), Stanford University and the Global Carbon Project examined progress in cutting fossil CO2 emissions since the Paris Agreement was adopted in 2015. Their results show the clear need for far greater ambition ahead of the important UN climate summit in Glasgow in November (COP26).

The annual cuts of 0.16 billion tonnes of CO2 are only 10% of the 1-2 billion tonnes of CO2 cuts that are needed globally every year to keep global warming within the range 1.5 °C to well below 2 °C, the ambition of the UN Paris Agreement.

While emissions decreased in 64 countries, they increased in 150 countries. Globally, emissions grew by 0.21 billion tonnes of CO2 per year during 2016-2019 compared to 2011-2015.

The findings, ‘Fossil CO2 emissions in the post-COVID era’, were published in Nature Climate Change.

In 2020, confinement measures to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic cut global emissions by 2.6 billion tonnes of CO2, about 7% below 2019 levels. The researchers say 2020 is a ‘pause button’ that cannot realistically continue while the world overwhelmingly relies on fossil fuels, and confinement policies are neither a sustainable nor desirable solution to the climate crisis.

Prof Corinne Le Quéré, Royal Society Professor at UEA’s School of Environmental Sciences, led the analysis. She said, “Countries’ efforts to cut CO2 emissions since the Paris Agreement are starting to pay off, but actions are not large-scale enough yet and emissions are still increasing in way too many countries.”

Of the 36 high-income countries, 25 saw their emissions decrease during 2016-2019 compared to 2011-2015, including the USA (-0.7%), the European Union (-0.9%), and the UK (-3.6%t). Emissions decreased even when accounting for the carbon footprint of imported goods produced in other countries.

Thirty of 99 upper-middle income countries also saw their emissions decrease during 2016–2019 compared to 2011–2015, suggesting that actions to reduce emissions are now in motion in many countries worldwide. Mexico (-1.3%) is a notable example in that group, while China’s emissions increased 0.4%, much less than the 6.2% annual growth of 2011-2015.

The growing number of climate change laws and policies appear to have played a key role in curbing the growth in emissions during 2016-2019. There are now more than 2000 climate laws and policies worldwide.

Prof Rob Jackson of Stanford University co-authored the study. He said: “The growing commitments by countries to reach net zero emissions within decades strengthens the climate ambition needed at COP26 in Glasgow.”

“Commitments alone aren’t enough. Countries need to align post-COVID incentives with climate targets this decade, based on sound science and credible implementation plans.”

See the latest emissions figures comparing country by country progress with their CO2 emissions. Anthony De-Gol at UEA has created an application that enables emissions data to be shown by country: https://enactivescience.com/gcp/ 


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