Last year, global energy emissions hit an all-time high, exceeding the 2 degrees Celsius goal industrialized countries agreed to in Copenhagen. A report released Monday by the International Energy Agency (IEA) states that “The world is not on track to meet the target agreed to by governments to limit the long-term rise in the average global temperature to 2 degrees Celsius.” The study concludes that limiting the global temperature rise to 2 °C is still “technically feasible, though extremely challenging.”
The weight of scientific analysis tells us that our climate is already changing and that we should expect extreme weather events (such as storms, floods and heat waves) to become more frequent and intense, as well as increasing global temperatures and rising sea levels. Policies that have been implemented, or are now being pursued, suggest that the long-term average temperature increase is more likely to be between 3.6 °C and 5.3 °C (compared with pre-industrial levels), with most of the increase occurring this century.
Carbon dioxide emissions from energy-related sources reached a record 31.6 gigatons last year, according to the IEA. With a 1.4 percent increase last year, the current trends predict a 5.3 degrees Celsius rise. In 2009, the industrial world set a goal of preventing the global average temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.
In 2011, data compiled by Reuters showed a 0.7 percent decrease in greenhouse gas emissions, which they attributed to “a US shift from high-polluting coal in power plants and by Europe’s economic slowdown.” Their data, based on figures from 42 industrialized nations, showed that China and other emerging economies are increasingly contributing to worldwide growth in emissions.
“Per capita, emissions of China are now pretty much on the same level as those in the EU,” scientist Jos Olivier told Reuters. Still, the article pointed out that other studies from 2011 showed that worldwide emissions were rising. The Global Carbon Project, conducted by an international group of scientists, reported a 5.9 percent increase of global carbon dioxide emissions in 2010, which they attributed to “strong emissions growth in emerging economies and a return to emissions growth in developed economies.”
In America, much of the GOP remains convinced that anthropogenic climate change is a farce, and many right-wing ideologue billionaires still fund groups that attempt to spread climate change denial. Meanwhile, the head of the US Navy Pacific command has called climate change the greatest long-term national security threat, and studies have shown that extreme weather patterns are creating more and more climate refugees, or people displaced due to extreme storms and weather events.
Globally, governments decided that we need to limit the average global temperature increase to no more than 2 degrees Celsius. Last year, at the UN’s annual Climate Change Conference, 194 countries agreed to an extension of the Kyoto Protocol; however, they only agreed to “work toward a universal climate change agreement covering all countries, to be adopted by 2015,” and come into effect by 2020.
Meanwhile, the IEA report, Redrawing the Energy-Climate Map, states that “intensive action” is required before 2020. The energy sector is the key to climate change, as it accounts for two-thirds of greenhouse gas emissions, and over 80 percent of global energy consumption is based on fossil fuels.
“Even after allowing for policies now being pursued,” it asserts, “global energy-related greenhouse-gas emissions in 2020 are projected to be nearly 4 gigatons CO2-equivalent higher than a level consistent with attaining the 2 degrees Celsius target.” The report provides four energy policies that, if implemented, could keep the 2 °C target alive. Whether this information sparks any interest or action remains to be seen.
Alisha is a writer and researcher for Ring of Fire.