DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (CNN) — Scientists are warning that the time to cut fossil fuels is running out.
Data from Climate Action Tracker, an independent research group, reveals how much the planet is still polluting, which countries pollute the most, and how much more progress needs to be made.
At the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28), countries discussed the extent of their progress towards the Paris Agreement pledge to keep global warming below two degrees Celsius with the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Years of international climate action have put the world on the right track, with global warming far less than it was a decade ago.
But the pace is still very slow.
“It’s not a short distance. It’s a long way,” said Niklas Hohn, a climate scientist at the nonprofit NuClimate Institute, which works on the Climate Action Tracker.
A growing group of scientists has warned that the 1.5°C target may now be impossible, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less urgent.
“Every fraction of a degree makes a huge difference in the impacts on the ground,” explained Darrin Franzen, director of science, research and data at the World Resources Institute’s Global Climate Program.
The difference between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius means hundreds of millions of lives would be at risk from extreme weather events. For some ecosystems, this is a death sentence.
For coral reefs, Francine noted, it’s the difference between being “swept off the face of the Earth” and sticking together.
He said the task ahead of us was like “redirecting a huge tanker” and that it could not be done immediately or easily.
“The problem is that the time limit is running out and now we have to turn the ship around very quickly,” he continued.
Check out the data below that shows why this is so difficult.
The targets of the world’s biggest climate polluters tell very different stories.
China’s rate of planet-warming pollution has increased as it relies heavily on coal to power its economy. But its emissions have begun to stabilize and are expected to peak by 2025, according to the Climate Action Tracker website. China has pledged to work with the United States to promote renewable energy and reduce all global greenhouse gas emissions.
Pierre Friedlingstein, a climate professor at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, says the country suffers from a paradox: China is developing renewable energy faster than anywhere else in the world, but is also adding new coal-based power.
In the United States and the European Union, pollution levels from a warming planet have been declining for years, and the United States and the European Union are working to increase the ambition of their climate policies. Last year, US President Joe Biden signed the Anti-Inflation Act, the largest climate investment in the country’s history, and the European Union laid out an ambitious plan to further expand clean energy.
“There’s still a long way to go,” said climate scientist Niklas Hohn of the nonprofit NuClimate Institute, which works on the Climate Action Tracker. The United States and the European Union are still a long way from achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 — a plan to limit pollution caused by warming the planet near zero — starting from high emitters. A break from the atmosphere.
Franzen pointed out that India, whose emissions are rising sharply, is often juxtaposed with China, two of the world’s largest and most populous emerging economies, pointing out that they actually differ.
India has come a long way on its development path and has contributed very little to historical emissions. The country of more than 1.4 billion people has far lower per capita emissions than China and still struggles with “massive levels of poverty,” Franzen said.
As India grows, its emissions are expected to increase. While investing in large renewable energy projects, it also continues to rely on coal.
When coal, oil, and gas are burned, this process releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, where it warms the planet for hundreds of years.
“What’s causing climate change today is not just the amount of emissions this year, but all the emissions since the industrial revolution,” Franzen said.
While China will be the largest polluter in 2022, the US will remain the largest over time.
Developed countries not only bear historical responsibility for climate change, they have built their economies and wealth on it. Many in the Global South argue that rich countries have a responsibility to cut emissions faster and reach net-zero emissions goals sooner.
Honey pointed out that the concept of justice has been a tense topic since the parties’ conferences began some 30 years ago.
The numbers in this table show how much planet-warming pollution needs to be reduced to meet what Climate Action Watch analysis indicates is a “fair share” of emissions reductions to reach the 1.5°C target by 2030.
The analysis, based on more than 40 scientific studies, takes into account several factors, including countries’ historical emissions and ability to pay for climate action.
Franzen added that this reflects that every country must act on climate change, but not all at the same pace. “Countries have different histories and capacities,” he said.
Honey noted that the European Union and the United States top the rankings because of their greatest responsibility for historical emissions.
“They are now in debt,” he said, adding that developed countries have been “in debt” for the past 200 years.
At the other end of the spectrum, Nigeria has historically borne least responsibility for the climate crisis and has few resources to deal with it.
For her part, Hannah Fickett of the New Climate Institute, which works on the Climate Action Tracker, said the country technically has “a lot of room for emissions”.
This does not mean that Nigeria should not act, especially since the country is a major producer and exporter of fossil fuels.
Friedlingstein considered that there are different ways to determine a country’s fair share of emissions reductions. Climate action tracker data is one way to try to determine responsibility.
He emphasized that there is “no single answer” to the question of who should do what, as it is not related to physics or mathematics. “It’s not about climate science, it’s about decision-making, politics and diplomacy.”
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