This story includes details on the impacts of climate change that may be difficult for some readers. If you are feeling overwhelmed by this crisis situation here is a list of resources on how to cope with fears and feelings about the scope and pace of the climate crisis.
By 2030, nine out of ten of the world’s nations can expect unprecedented hot years— the sort of annual temperature averages once experienced maybe once a century — every other year, without stronger climate action.
And a huge proportion of the responsibility will lie with just five economies: China, the United States, the European Union, India, and Russia, scientists at ETH Europe and Climate Analytics report in a new analysis released yesterday. These regimes between them, will have generated 52% of global emissions between 1991 and 2030. Without the carbon pollution from the world’s five biggest greenhouse gas emitters, fewer than five out of ten nations would feel such intense heat, so often.
And 15% of the world’s increase in extreme hot years could be pinned on the emissions of the Big Five between 2016 and 2030 alone: that is, in the years after they all signed the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit global heating to “well below” 2°C by the century’s end, the science team writes in the journal Communications Earth and Environment.
“Our work shows that over a relatively short time period, the emissions of these five economies have a strong impact on extreme heat experienced around the globe by 2030,” said lead author Lea Beusch, of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, now better known as ETH Zurich. “We’re talking about annual mean temperatures that would only be experienced once every 100 years in pre–industrial times happening every second year.”
Beusch and her colleagues used sophisticated computer simulations to calculate the volume of greenhouse gases the Big Five have already released, and the impact of the pledges and plans made by the quintet as part of the implementation of the Paris Agreement.
The message from the study—increasingly a familiar one—is that the Big Five are simply not doing enough to reduce emissions. They are instead, say the authors, “playing a major role in driving global and regional warming and are increasing the probability for extreme hot years.” They have been doing so not just since the first report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 1990, but even since the Paris Agreement of 2015.
The researchers also looked at the responsibility of regular citizens in those big economies. They calculated emissions per head and found that if all the five countries had the same projected per capita emissions as the United States, global heating in 2030 would be 0.4°C higher compared to their emission reduction pledges made so far.
That, in turn, would be 0.5°C higher than if all the people of the Big Five matched the per capita emissions of India, with the lowest per capita emissions in the grouping. Even more alarmingly, under the “let’s keep up with the Americans” scenario, three out of four countries would exceed regional warming of 2°C, instead of the present predicted one in ten. The U.S. itself would experience warming of around 2.5°C.
The ink on the Paris signatures in 2015 was hardly dry before some of the world’s most forceful scientists began pointing out that the Paris promises—always supposing the signatories kept those promises—were not enough to avoid catastrophic climate change. Researchers have consistently argued that to contain global heating to the 1.5°C target will require drastic and dramatic cuts in fossil energy use, and that on the pledges so far, the world can expect to be 3°C or more warmer by 2100 than it has been for most of human history.
At the COP 26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland late last year, the Paris signatory nations agreed to revisit the promises they made six years ago. The latest study is a reminder that the wealthiest economies—the ones that produced most of the emissions that have already raised global temperatures by more than 1°C—also have the greatest responsibility. The poorest nations have the lowest emissions per capita, and are also the nations most likely to suffer most cruelly from soaring temperatures and rising sea levels.
“Our results underscore that the actions of the world’s top emitters will have a huge impact on our global temperature trajectory in this decade,” said study co-author Alexander Nauels of Climate Analytics.
“How they respond to the COP 26 outcome will be fundamental to whether 1.5°C stays within reach,” and “none of their targets are currently sufficient.”