Scientists Say Emissions Must Be Cut 10-Fold to Thwart Climate Change

Even the cuts many nations have already made — and targets they’ve already met — are woefully inadequate.

This image provided by the European Space Agency shows the glacier section that broke off the fjord called Nioghalvfjerdsfjorden (bottom) which is roughly 50 miles long and 12 miles wide. The glacier is at the end of the Northeast Greenland Ice Stream, where it flows off land and into the ocean. Scientists with National Geological Survey see it as evidence of rapid climate change leading to the disintegration of the Arctic’s largest remaining ice shelf. (European Space Agency via AP)

(CN) — A new report suggests that while some countries have successfully cut their CO2 emissions the past few years, those cuts need to increase 10 times over before the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement are met.

In no small part due to the Covid-19 pandemic, 2020 was a decent year for cutting our carbon footprint. But new research reveals it’s not nearly enough.

After being adopted by most of the world’s nations — a list that once again includes the United States, after its temporary withdrawal by the Trump administration — the Paris Climate Agreement represents one of the most comprehensive efforts to combat climate change in modern history. First drafted in 2015, the agreement sets a series of key targets the world needs to reach to help stem Earth’s ongoing climate emergency, most notably by drastically reducing the amount of greenhouse gas emissions by human activity.

Now, more than five years after being adopted, researchers have taken stock of how well the world has tackled those goals — and their findings suggest a whole lot of work is left to be done.

In a study published Wednesday in Nature Climate Change, researchers found that while emissions dropped in 64 countries between 2016 and 2019, they rose in 150 more countries. All told, experts say the world saw an increase of 0.23 billion tons of carbon dioxide on a yearly basis between 2016-2019 when compared to the years immediately before the adoption of the Paris Agreement.

Among the nations that are bringing down their CO2 emissions, researchers found that while the efforts are making progress, they are only a fraction of the way to more tangible results.

Experts say to effectively tackle climate change, emissions need to be cut by around 1 to 2 billion tons of CO2 each year — meaning the current annual cuts of around 0.18 billion tons represent just 10% of this overall goal.

Corinne Le Quéré, lead author of the study and Royal Society Professor at UEA School of Environmental Sciences, said that while the world is seeing some positive results when it comes to carbon emissions, they are simply not enough to correct the overall problem.

“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,” Le Quéré said with the release of the study.

Experts say that when they looked at which countries were making the most progress, they found positive trends amongst the richest nations of the world. Of the 36 countries designated as high-income nations, 25 saw decreases in their carbon emissions, including a 0.7% drop in the United States and a 0.9% drop in the European Union.

A portion of Earth’s upper-middle income nations also saw decent progress, with around three dozen of the 99 nations in this group trending in the right direction. Mexico saw their emissions drop by 1.3%, and while China saw a small emissions increase of 0.4%, this figure stands as a remarkable improvement over the 6.2% annual increases the nation saw between 2011 and 2015.

Covid-19 has had a surprisingly positive influence on carbon emissions, with the study finding that global stay-at-home orders and drastically reduced travel resulted in around in around 2.9 billion tons of CO2 being cut in 2020.

But researchers warn that even when accounting for cuts from Covid-19, the gains are not enough to overcome the scope of climate change. The restrictions forced upon the world by a global pandemic are no substitute for a long-term climate strategy, and as long as the world continues to rely so deeply on fossil fuels, reaching the benchmarks outlined by the Paris Climate Agreement will be a steep uphill battle.

Researchers say that to properly face the formidable threat of climate change, global communities need to take advantage of this momentary lull in carbon activity by doubling-down on investments into clean energy and a greener economy in a post Covid-world.

“The science is established and international agreements are in place, with some evidence that growth in global CO2 emissions was already faltering before the Covid-19 pandemic,” the study states. “The task of sustaining decreases in global emissions of the order of billion tons of CO2 per year, while supporting economic recovery and human development, and improved health, equity and well-being, lies in current and future actions.”

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