Dec 5, 2023 - Energy & Environment

Sober climate data shows why COP28 matters

Global fossil CO2 emissions, by source
Data: Global Carbon Project; Chart: Simran Parwani/Axios

Taken together, three new analyses highlight the relentless march of climate change — and what's in store without much stronger policies.

Driving the news: The Global Carbon Project (GCP) estimates fossil-related carbon dioxide emissions rose another 1.1% to a new record.

  • That's despite surging renewables, and falling emissions in developed economies like the U.S. and EU, the researchers found. Axios' Rebecca Falconer has more.
  • And a World Meteorological Organization report concludes the rate of climate change "surged alarmingly" from 2011-2020.

What they found: Not only was it the warmest decade on record, but glacier and sea ice loss were "unprecedented," the UN weather agency said.

  • Glaciers thinned by roughly 1 meter per year, while more countries reported record high temperatures than in any other decade.

Zoom in: "The Antarctic continental ice sheet lost nearly 75% more ice between 2011-2020 than it did in 2001-2010," a WMO summary notes, calling this "ominous" for sea-level rise.

What's next: Climate Action Tracker projects warming sailing dangerously past Paris targets, even if nations implement their current pledges.

  • Their latest estimate ticked up slightly, to 2.5°C above preindustrial levels by 2100, thanks to increasing emissions in countries with "weak" targets.
  • It's worse when you look at real-world actions based on current policies, which bring an estimate of 2.7°C — no improvement from their 2021 estimate.

Yes, but: Researchers see some bright spots.

  • GCP sees China's emissions rising 4% this year (not good!), but strong renewables deployment is preventing even higher growth.
  • U.S. coal emissions are falling sharply, while EU fossil emissions are down 7.4% this year.

What we're watching: Who knows whether this grim choose-your-own-adventure of threat metrics will influence COP28 negotiations.

  • These reports certainly underscore the urgency of the need for very steep emissions cuts, which are nowhere in evidence yet.
  • But government policies and investments are motivated by all kinds of considerations and national interests. And scary data is nothing new.

The bottom line: The window to meet Paris goals is shutting fast.

  • The University of Exeter's Pierre Friedlingstein, a GCP co-author, said in a statement that "it now looks inevitable we will overshoot the 1.5°C target."
  • "Leaders meeting at COP28 will have to agree [to] rapid cuts in fossil fuel emissions even to keep the 2°C target alive."
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