Two reports, published in late October in the lead up to the COP26 climate conference currently taking place in Glasgow, paint a bleak picture regarding the likelihood of keeping global temperatures from increasing more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) released a Greenhouse Gas Bulletin on Oct. 25, revealing that carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide were all at record levels in 2020.
Classified as long-lived greenhouse gases (LLGHGs), these three gases were at 149%, 262% and 123%, respectively, above their pre-industrial levels last year.
Carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, along with two others, account for 96% of radiative forcing that results from LLGHGs. “From 1990 to 2020, radiative forcing by … LLGHGs increased by 47%, with CO2 accounting for about 80% of this increase,” the WMO report said.
Radiative forcing measures the amount of energy absorbed into the earth from the sun minus the amount reflected back into space. When more is absorbed than reflected, you have positive radiative forcing and the earth warms.
“At the current rate of increase in greenhouse gas concentrations, we will see a temperature increase by the end of this century far in excess of the Paris Agreement targets of 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels,” Petteri Taalas, head of the WMO, said. “We are way off track.”
Five days earlier, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) released a report that documented a large gap between the commitments of various governments to reduce greenhouse gases resulting from fossil fuels and the continued production levels.
“The world’s governments still plan to produce more than double the amount of fossil fuels in 2030 than would be consistent with limiting global warming to 1.5°C, and 45% more than consistent with limiting warming to 2°C,” the UNEP report said. “Collectively, although many governments have pledged to lower their emissions and even set net-zero targets, they have not yet made plans to wind down production of the fossil fuels that, once burned, generate most of those emissions.”
Without substantive changes to significantly reduce fossil fuel production, the world is on pace to produce 110% more fossil fuels than the maximum levels for the world to meet the 1.5°C warming target and 45% more than the levels needed to meet the 2°C target.
The production gaps calculated in the UNEP report for the 1.5°C target are as follows: Coal is on pace for 240% higher production levels, followed by natural gas at 71% and oil at 57%.
Even using the 2°C warming target, coal production would be 120% too high, with gas and coal at 15% and 14% above necessary levels, respectively.
Based on current trends and projections, the U.S. will see a decline in coal production by 2030, but an increase in both oil and gas.
Of the 15 countries analyzed, only Germany, South Africa and the U.K. are expected to see either a decline or a flatline in production levels for all three fossil fuels between 2019 and 2030.
The UNEP report’s authors warn that the reality could be even worse than their projections if technology to capture carbon emissions is not scaled up quickly enough or proves less effective than it is expected to be.