Nov 26, 2019 - Energy & Environment

Nothing is happening remotely fast enough to save the planet

illustration of greek statue rolling up a globe

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Analyses released ahead of the big United Nations climate meeting that opens next week in Madrid bring bad news for the planet.

The big picture: The reports show that despite increasing use of climate-friendly tech, especially surging deployment of solar and wind power, steep emissions cuts are nowhere on the horizon.

Driving the news, part 1: This morning the UN released its latest tally of the "emissions gap" — the difference between where greenhouse gas output is heading and estimates of what's needed to keep temperature rise in check.

  • Why it matters: "There is no sign of GHG emissions peaking in the next few years; every year of postponed peaking means that deeper and faster cuts will be required," it states.
  • By the numbers: "By 2030, emissions would need to be 25 percent and 55 percent lower than in 2018 to put the world on the least-cost pathway to limiting global warming to below 2˚C and 1.5°C respectively," the report finds.
  • What's next: The data will help inform discussions next week, and nations are slated to submit updated emissions pledges under the Paris Agreement next year. Under current pledges, the world is on course for a 3.2°C rise by century's end, the report states.
  • Go deeper: In bleak report, U.N. says drastic action is only way to avoid worst effects of climate change (Washington Post)

Driving the news, part 2: The buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere isn't slowing down and reached fresh records in 2018, separate data from the UN's World Meteorological Organization data shows.

  • What they found: Growth in atmospheric CO2 levels from 2017–2018 was very similar to the 2016–2017 rise and "practically equal to the average yearly increase over the last decade," the findings released Monday state.
  • Details: Concentrations of two other major GHGs — methane and nitrous oxide — increased more in 2017–2018 than average increases over the prior 10 years.
  • Why it matters: “There is no sign of a slowdown, let alone a decline, in greenhouse gases concentration in the atmosphere despite all the commitments under the Paris Agreement," WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a statement with the report.
  • By the numbers: The CO2 concentration rose by another 2.3 parts-per-million to reach 407.8 ppm. Per Taalas, “It is worth recalling that the last time the Earth experienced a comparable concentration of CO2 was 3–5 million years ago."

A clean energy investment slowdown

Adapted from BloombergNEF; Chart: Axios Visuals

Combined investment in clean energy projects in developing nations fell sharply last year, per newly released data from the research firm BloombergNEF.

Why it matters: The overall decline is largely due to a drop in China, which is by far the world's largest GHG-emitting nation.

  • "Investment in new wind, solar, and other non-large hydro renewables projects in the country fell to $86 billion in 2018 from $122 billion in 2017," a summary notes.
  • However, tallies also dipped for Brazil and India.

But, but, but: It's worth noting that some of the drop is because wind and solar keep getting cheaper.

  • And if you remove China, Brazil and India from the equation, clean energy investment in emerging economies grew somewhat in 2018, BloombergNEF said.

One level deeper: The amount of coal-fired power produced in developing nations increased in 2018 and accounts for a combined 47% of generation in 104 emerging markets surveyed.

  • However, the pace of new coal-fired capacity added to power grids in these markets is slowing.

Go deeper: WMO: Carbon dioxide levels hit the highest recorded in human history

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