Nov 14, 2022 - Energy & Environment

Emissions tracking at all-time high as leaders meet at COP27

Illustration of the COP27 logo next to smoke stacks and abstract shapes.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

World leaders have come and gone. Now lower level ministers at COP27 in Egypt must wrestle with the thorniest issues dividing rich and poor nations on the climate crisis in order to craft an agreement.

Why it matters: The decisions made in Sharm el-Sheikh could help determine whether the Paris warming limit of 1.5°C permanently fades into the distance, or if nations commit to sweeping actions to keep it alive.

Driving the news: The crucial second week of the summit comes as a new scientific report reveals the world is still headed in the wrong direction on fossil fuel-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

  • Emissions are likely to reach an all-time high this year, with a 1% increase over last year, according to the Global Carbon Project, an international research effort.

Zoom in: “I can’t say that I see much optimism out of these numbers,” Glen Peters, a study coauthor and a researcher at CICERO in Oslo, told Axios.

  • "There's not even a hint of a decrease at least in the last 10 years."
  • Global fossil CO2 emissions are now more than 5% above 2015 levels when the Paris Agreement was struck, he said.

Taking into account historical emissions, the Global Carbon Budget analyzes how much more CO2 countries could emit before the Paris Agreement's temperature targets are exceeded.

Threat level: The findings are stark, concluding that at current emissions rates, the world has just nine years before exceeding the budget for the 1.5-degree warming target, and 30 years for the 2-degree target.

  • To meet a midcentury net-zero goal, emissions would need to steadily decline annually by about the same margin as they did during the pandemic year of 2019, the study notes.

The intrigue: It is against this backdrop that diplomats must negotiate an offramp away from an increasingly dystopian future. Every single word will be contested by bleary-eyed ministers, and the talks are already running behind.

  • “There has not been a huge amount of progress on the negotiations themselves,” Alex Scott of E3G, told Axios from Egypt. She said the leaders’ summit at COP27 showed support for accelerating climate action but lacked many new commitments.

State of play: Potential flash points around the summit text include whether and how the Paris targets are incorporated, particularly the 1.5°C goal.

  • There's also the potential mention, as at COP26, of the need to cut fossil fuel use. Coal, the most carbon-intensive power source, may be singled out.
  • The matter of climate damages also looms large, with the wild card of whether an agreement commits countries to establishing a new funding mechanism.
  • Also, Scott said many countries are pushing for more details and greater funding to help developing nations adapt to the effects of climate change.
  • "The adaptation finance point is really one to watch," she said.

Between the lines: An external factor that may shape the COP27 outcome is the G20 meeting currently underway in Bali, Indonesia. The leaders of China and India are present there, after skipping COP27.

  • The interaction between the two confabs introduces more volatility to the COP27 dynamics, and could affect instructions given to government ministers for the final text, Scott said.
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