Environment: COP meetings keep happening; emissions keep rising

Nov 13, 2022
COP 27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. United nations climate change conference. 7-18 November 2022 will be international climate summit. Flat vector modern banner.

Four reports and Greta Thunberg highlight the failure of 30 years of COP meetings to slow climate change.

COP reports (Part 1)

Many organisations try to maximise the impact of reports they have been preparing by releasing them just before the annual COP meeting. There have been far too many this year for me to summarise every one in detail, so here goes with the most attention-grabbing findings from four, with another four or so next week.

WMO – Provisional State of the Global Climate 2022 and Greenhouse Gas Bulletin

  • Atmospheric concentrations of the three main greenhouse gases (CO2, methane and nitrous oxide) continue to increase;
  • CO2 is responsible for 66% of the warming since pre-industrial times and 80% over the last decade;
  • 2022 is likely to be the 5th or 6th warmest year on record. The last eight years have been the warmest eight ever recorded, despite the cooling influence of La Nina over the last three;
  • Ice on land and sea continues to retreat, sea temperatures continue to increase, and sea levels continue to rise at increasing rates.

IEA – World Energy Outlook 2022. Under the currently operating policies of the world’s governments:

  • Global demand for coal will peak in the next few years, natural gas around 2030 and oil in the mid 30s (due to the uptake of EVs);
  • Total fossil fuel use will peak in the mid 20s;
  • Fossil fuels will fall from their current 80% of global energy supply to 75% by 2030 and 60% by 2050. This is movement in the right direction, albeit far too slow, but as far as global warming is concerned, it’s the amount of fossil fuel that is burnt that matters, not the percentage of the total energy mix;
  • Energy related CO2 emissions will increase from 36.6Gt in 2021 to peak at 37 Gt in 2025 and fall slowly to 32Gt in 2050. This will lead to global warming of 2.5oC by 2100; Electricity will increase from its current 20% of global energy supply to 50% in 2050;
  • Electricity will increase from its current 20% of global energy supply to 50% in 2050;
  • The global energy crisis caused by war in Ukraine has added energy security priorities to economic and environmental arguments for moving energy markets and policies more firmly towards renewable energy.

If all countries were to actually achieve their current pledges:

  • Usage of all three fossil fuels will peak before 2030;
  • Emissions will peak in the mid 20s and fall to 12 Gt in 2050. This will lead to warming of 1.7oC by 2100.

UNFCCC – Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) Synthesis Report

  • Only 24 of 193 countries have updated their NDCs in the last year;
  • Combining the current commitments of all countries that are signatories to the Paris Agreement, global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2030 will be 55.1 Gt CO2eq;
  • This is 59% higher than 1990 (roughly when countries started working together to combat climate change), 16% higher than 2010 and 5% higher than 2019;
  • If the 2030 emissions projection proves to be correct, the world will have used all but one year’s portion of the total carbon budget for keeping global warming under 1.5oC this century – and even then it’s only a one-in-two chance of staying below 1.5.

Amnesty International – Any Tidal Wave Could Drown Us

  • The climate crisis is a human rights crisis;
  • The effects of climate change are magnified by economic, social, political and cultural factors that compound pre-existing marginalisation, discrimination, colonisation and oppression and prevent hundreds of millions of people living fulfilling lives;
  • Seven case studies detail human experiences of how climate change affects human rights differently in different contexts. The cases focus on: the rights to health, food, water, work, etc. of marginalised coastal communities; the cultural rights and traditional ways of life of Indigenous communities; people with inadequate housing in informal settlements; increased stigma and discrimination for people of diverse gender and sexual orientation; and the effects of heat extremes on older people and people with disabilities;
  • There is an urgent need for governments (especially of wealthy industrialised nations), international governmental organisations and the private sector to put communities and human rights above short-term political and economic interests.

There is a very simple take-away from these reports: governments around the world keep talking and keep promising but are making nowhere near enough effort to stop fossil fuels being mined or burnt, reach net zero emissions and keep global warming under 1.5oC. The effects of climate change on the lives, health and human rights of communities are already disastrous.

Coca-Cola, plastic polluter, coal profiteer and COP sponsor

Coca-Cola, one of the world’s biggest plastic polluters, is an official sponsor of COP27. Bearing in mind that most plastic is made from fossil fuels, it is not surprising that the conference organisers’ choice has come in for some criticism.

Now it has emerged (Sydney Morning Herald, November 7th) that Coca-Cola owns the mineral rights to Rolleston coal mine in Central Queensland. Coca-Cola has received about $100 million in royalties from the mine’s owner, Glencore, over the last decade or so. In fairness, Coca-Cola is currently looking to sell the mineral rights but that hasn’t stopped it squabbling with fellow mega-capitalist Glencore in the Queensland Supreme Court to keep its coal-based income.

Greta nails it again

There’s something about the way Greta Thunberg expresses herself that really grabs me. She somehow manages to pick the eyes out of a situation and construct a compelling storyline, and she never pulls her punches (I know, mixed metaphors). If you don’t follow any of the other hotlinks I’ve provided this week, please hit this one. In 3000 words Ms Thunberg paints a clear and graphic picture of the dire situation we’re in and why it isn’t getting any better.

Rainbows at the bottom of global warming’s abyss

Climate change will alter the frequency and distribution of rainbows by changing rainfall and cloud cover. On average, in any given global location conditions are currently suitable for rainbows on 117 days per year. With global warming, by 2100 this is projected to increase by 4-5%. About three-quarters of places will gain and about a quarter will lose rainbow days, with higher latitudes and higher altitudes being the big winners, although there tend to be fewer people in those places to see them. And, of course, you’re only a winner if you like seeing rainbows or attribute good things to them (for instance the Rainbow Serpent). Some cultures regard them as malign spirits.

The southern half of Australia is likely to see fewer rainbow days, with SW Western Australia and the Victoria-South Australia region losing a lot of rainbow days. The northern half of Australia won’t see much change.

Benefits of mangroves and seagrasses

We know that mangroves and seagrass meadows are very important for, amongst other things, storing and sequestering carbon and protecting coastal communities. In Australia mangroves provide protection for 175,000 people occupying 86,000 homes and together mangroves and seagrasses store about 550 million tons of CO2 and absorb about 14 million tons of CO2 each year.

The three graphs below indicate the distribution of the benefits provided by these two coastal ecosystems across the states. Clearly, Queensland benefits most from the coastal protection provided by mangroves. However, while the mangroves and seagrasses of the Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia store and sequester the most carbon, we all benefit from that.


Holiday season reading

Looking to bone up on climate change over the holiday season? Here are five books recommended by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. They cover a diverse range of subjects: military conflicts that might be precipitated by a hotter world; environmental history since 1945 (the period of the Anthropocene); the moral responsibility of people such as you and me to slow climate change right now; using reparations for loss and damage caused by climate change to build a better, more equitable international social order; and the US government’s 50 year role in simultaneously denying and causing the climate crisis. The books are all available ($25-60) from an Australian online bookseller that I consulted so you may want to order one or more now for yourself or to give as Christmas presents.

Use of fossil fuels and non-fossil fuels in 2050

The IEA report I summarised above includes the following figure (page 58). It shows the amount of energy (in Exajoules) provided by fossil and non-fossil energy sources from 2020-2050. The figure on the left shows the likely trajectories if all governments’ current policies are pursued. The figure on the right shows the trajectories that are needed to reach net zero emissions by 2050. Current policies will more than double non-fossil supplies by 2050, whereas the net zero course needs an almost four-fold increase. The big change though is in the supply of fossil energy. Current policies will produce only a marginal reduction in fossil fuel energy, but to achieve net zero emissions fossil energy must be reduced to approximately one-fifth of 2020 levels by 2050.

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