A year has passed since the world agreed to “keep 1.5°C alive” at the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow. Yet following this tentative optimism – that global temperature rises could be limited to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels – everything in geopolitics and energy markets changed.
Russia’s war in Ukraine has reopened fault lines in international relations to an extent not seen since the Cold War, while restrictions on Russian oil and gas have made “energy security” a higher priority than climate policies such as reducing emissions to prevent global warming. Meanwhile, unprecedented climate disasters, from floods in Pakistan to droughts in China, remind us the climate crisis is intensifying.
To mark Cop27 in Egypt in November, the New Statesman is tracking all the latest data on carbon emissions and national pledges to reduce them: the key metrics for assessing climate action. We reveal how far the world is from reaching net-zero emissions by the middle of the century, which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says is necessary to keep global warming at the “safe” 1.5°C limit.
Headline global emissions data is bleak. The world’s carbon emissions have risen by more than 60 per cent between 1990 and 2021, according to data provided to the New Statesman by climate scientists behind the Global Carbon Project. The trend remains upward, even as the IPCC has warned that emissions must fall by 45 per cent from 2010 levels by 2030 for the world to have a chance of limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5°C.
The major industrial hubs in Asia and the West produce the most overall emissions. High-consumption lifestyles in the West, and fossil fuel-based economies in the Middle East, mean countries in those regions produce the highest emissions per capita.
While 17 per cent of the world’s population lives in Africa, the continent produces only around 4 per cent of the world’s emissions (and of those, 80 per cent come from just six countries: Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Nigeria and South Africa). A challenge for Cop27 negotiators will be to support the development of African nations without their emissions rising to the levels of industrialised countries.
There are grounds for optimism. Many of the world’s most developed countries are now consistently recording year-on-year declines in emissions, as their economies have moved away from heavy industry and they have decarbonised their electricity supply.
In the UK, for example, emissions have fallen over 45 per cent since 1990 and about 40 per cent of electricity now comes from renewables. The UK continues to cement its position as a world leader in offshore wind, while in the US the Inflation Reduction Act means American wind capacity should double and solar capacity quadruple by 2030.
The shift to clean energy is continuing at record pace. Worldwide 257 gigawatts (GW) of renewable electricity capacity were installed in 2021, a rise of 9 per cent, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency. In China, the Five-Year Plan of 2021-5 will add 874GW of solar and wind to the electricity grid: a similar size to Europe’s entire electrical network.
Since 1990 emissions in 69 countries and territories have fallen, while they have risen in 150 countries. Major industrial players including the US, Germany and Italy are among those with declining emissions.
Countries contributing to 91 per cent of global GDP have now pledged to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, including the world’s biggest emitters. “Net zero moved from being a rich country fad to a global trend in the second half of 2021,” said Henning Gloystein, from the Eurasia Group risk consultancy. “There is a lot of legitimate criticism that net zero isn’t enough to drive change, but even if it isn’t I think we will soon begin to see economies change much more rapidly as they chart their decarbonisation pathways.”
Still, of all the new pledges made by the time Cop26 happened, just 6 per cent were adequately supported by domestic policies and interim targets (which are usually for 2030), according to the Climate Action Tracker think tank. At the end of October the annual UN Emissions Gap report found that policies currently in place would mean the world will warm by around 2.5°C – a devastating prospect.
The Institute for European Environmental Policy calculates that emissions must now fall 3.4 per cent year-on-year up to 2030 for a chance of global warming keeping “well below 2°C”: the aim of the Paris Agreement, a major climate change treaty signed in 2015. The world is on course for a 1 per cent rise in emissions in 2022, as forecast by the International Energy Agency.
At Cop27, renewed policies must be forced through with urgency to rescue planet earth from catastrophe.