Between 1850 and 2019, Earth emitted roughly 2,400 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent; but 42 per cent of it occurred in the last 30 years.
These numbers may by themselves not mean much, but for perspective, it is necessary to understand that the globe is warming and for it to stay alive, it is a must to limit the rise in warming to 1.5°C compared with the average global temperatures that obtained in the mid 19 th century.
And for this to happen, emissions of greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide, methane and a bunch of others — must fall and stop. Or else, the very survival of mankind is at stake.
Now, after spewing 2,400 billion tons of harmful gases, how much more room do we have, so that the target of 1.5°C is reached? A mere 500 billion tons. And that too, if we limit emissions to 500 billion tons, we have half a chance of meeting the 1.5°C target.
It is 500 billion tons for the entire world. The fight, therefore, who should get a fair share of this ‘carbon budget’? Developing countries say it is theirs, because the developed countries have already taken more than their fair share of the carbon space. They became developed in the first place by putting up emissions with gay abandon.
In 2019, the globe emitted 20 billion tons of greenhouse gases. Thus, in a business-as-usual scenario, the world would run out of runway in 25 years.
It is against this backdrop that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a multi-country body of experts tasked by the United Nations to develop data about climate change and suggestion action, has come up with the 3 rd instalment of its 6 th Assessment Report. (The Assessment Reports come once in many years; the 5 th was in 2013.)
The IPCC 6 th AR Working Group III report, released on Monday, speaks about ‘mitigation’, which refers to measures that are to be taken to prevent further global warming. (The previous two reports, of Working Groups I and II, released earlier this year, dealt with ‘physical science basis’ for climate action and ‘adaptation’, which refers to measures that are to be taken to cope up with climate change effects that have already become inevitable.)
What does the report say?
Essentially, it speaks about how bad the situation is, despite some notable success in terms of falling renewable energy prices, thrust given to EVs, good expansion of climate policy, etc., but that’s far from enough.
For example, the report says, “Emissions reductions in CO2 from fossil fuels and industrial processes, due to improvements in energy intensity of GDP and carbon intensity of energy, have been less than emissions increase from rising global activity levels in industry, energy supply, transport, agriculture and buildings.”
Further, it speaks about growing inequality. A good 35 per cent of the world’s people live in countries where per capita emissions exceed 9 tons of CO2, whereas 41 per cent live in countries whose number is less than 3 tCO2. (Incidentally, India’s per capita emissions is 1.8 tCO2, among the lowest in the world.)
And the report also highlights what all is possible — in terms of building more climate-friendly buildings, energy systems that don’t smoke out the planet, building cities that breathe better and in which people walk or cycle to work, or at least take electric transport, and in terms of reducing demand of various things from food to energy to transport. There is emphasis on the ‘demand side mitigation’.
“Demand side measures and new ways of end-use service provision can reduce global GHG emissions in end use sectors by 40 –70 per cent by 2050,” it says.
In a recorded message to the press conference held to discuss the report, the UN General Secretary, Antonio Guterres, put it bluntly: “We are on a fast-track to climate disaster.”
Why? Because to meet the 1.5°C target, global emissions should be cut by 45 per cent this decade. However, the current climate pledges would mean a 14 per cent increase in emissions, Guterres noted.
This would mean that the world is on a pathway that will lead to double the 1.5°C target.
Stressing that “this is a climate emergency” the Secretary General observed that “some government and business leaders are saying one thing, but doing another — simply put, they are lying.”