The global community has coalesced around the ambitious goals of the Paris Agreement, one of which is to peak global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as soon as possible. The longer we delay the peak — the point when global emissions switch from increasing to decreasing — the more difficult it will be to limit global warming. Yet global GHG emissions are still rising and are expected to continue to climb through 2030.
The timing of when individual countries’ emissions peak and then decline — especially those of major emitters like the United States and China — is critically important in determining whether we can avoid the most dangerous climate impacts.
Although the timing of when global GHG emissions need to peak is well documented, there has been less research on when individual countries’ emissions have peaked. World Resources Institute’s (WRI) new paper, Turning Points: Trends in Countries Reaching Peak Greenhouse Gas Emissions Over Tim e, fills this gap by analysing which countries’ emissions peaked in the past and which countries have emissions- reduction commitments that imply peaking in the future.
The paper documents steady progress in the number of countries reaching peak emissions over time. By 1990, 19 countries had peaked (representing 21 per cent of global emissions), and by 2030 this number is likely to grow to 57 countries (representing 60 per cent of global emissions). Among the 57 countries that have peaked already or have a commitment that implies a peak by 2030 are some of the world’s biggest emitters, including China, the United States, Russia, Japan, Brazil, Germany and Mexico.
Peaking Progress by Decade
19 countries, representing 21 per cent of global emissions (based on 1990 emissions data), reached peak emissions in 1990 or earlier. Sixteen of them were former Soviet republics and/or economies in transition. The economic collapse after the break-up of the Soviet Union resulted in several former Soviet republics’ emissions declining sharply. Germany and Norway also peaked by 1990, and the European Union as a whole reached peak emissions by 1990.
By 2000, 33 countries’ emissions peaked, representing 18 per cent of global emissions (based on 2000 emissions data). Many of the countries peaking in the 1990s were European nations such as the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland and Finland. Costa Rica also reached peak emissions levels in 1999.
The number of countries that peaked by 2010 grew to 49, representing 36 per cent of global emissions (based on 2010 emissions data). This includes several more European countries such as Austria, Iceland, Ireland, Spain and Portugal, as well as Brazil (which peaked in 2004), Australia (which peaked in 2006), and the United States and Canada (both of which peaked in 2007).
53 countries representing 40 per cent of global emissions (based on 2010 emissions data rather than 2020 projections) peaked or have a commitment to peak by 2020. Countries with commitments to peak as part of their Copenhagen Accord pledges for 2020 include Japan, the Republic of Korea, Malta, and New Zealand. By 2020, almost all developed countries are expected to have peaked. 42 of the 43 Annex I countries under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change are expected to peak — all except for Turkey.
China, the Marshall Islands, Mexico and Singapore have unconditional climate pledges under the Paris Agreement that imply a peak in emissions by 2030 (China’s commitment is for CO2 emissions only). This brings the number of countries that have peaked or have a commitment to peak by 2030 to 57, representing 60 per cent of global emissions (based on 2010 emissions data rather than 2030 projections).
To be conservative, our analysis only considers countries with unconditional targets as having a target that implies a future peak. Additional countries that have targets that imply an emissions peak by 2030 but are contingent on receiving international support include Bhutan, Botswana, Ethiopia, Grenada and South Africa. The inclusion of these countries would increase the per cent of global emissions covered by peaking countries from 60 to 61 per cent in 2030.
Accelerating Climate Commitments
While this trend is encouraging, it’s not enough. Research suggests that to have a likely chance of staying within the 2°C limit for the least cost, global GHG emissions need to peak by 2020 at the latest. The world’s ability to limit warming to 1.5 or 2˚C depends not only on the number of countries that have peaked over time, but also the global share of emissions represented by those countries; their emissions levels at peaking; the timing of peaking; and the rate of emissions reductions after peaking.
Countries must make and achieve commitments to peak their emissions as soon as possible, set their peaks at lower emissions levels, and commit to a significant rate of emissions decline after peaking.
Countries can make these commitments when communicating or updating their nationally determined contributions under the Paris Agreement in 2020. Doing so will help ensure that countries’ emission reduction commitments bring global emissions to the level needed to meet the Paris Agreement’s temperature goals, and avoid the most dangerous impacts of climate change.
A federal trade panel is recommending that Trump impose tariffs as high as 35 percent on solar power technology.
These range from an immediate 30 percent tariff on all imported solar modules to a four-year quota system that allows the import of up to 8.9 gigawatts of solar cells and modules in the first year.
The ITC made a preliminary finding in September that domestic solar manufacturers had been harmed by cheap imports after a complaint brought by bankrupt Georgia-based producer Suniva Inc in April, says another Reuters article.
“The US solar industry let out a collective sigh of relief” as the ITC’s recommendations were less than half what Suniva Inc requested, says Bloomberg.
Other US solar companies had been bracing for higher duties, which they said would have disrupted the $29bn industry, stifling installations and triggering job cuts.
Trump will make a final decision on the restrictions later this year.
The year 2017 is “very likely” to be in the top three warmest years on record, according to provisional figures from the World Meteorological Organization.
The WMO says it will likely be the hottest year in the absence of the El Niño phenomenon.
The scientists argue that the long-term trend of warming driven by human activities continues unabated.
They say many of the “extraordinary” weather events seen this year bear the hallmarks of climate change.
On the opening day of this year’s key UN climate talks, researchers from the WMO have presented their annual State of the Global Climate report.
It follows hot on the heels of their greenhouse gases study from last week which found that concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere were the highest on record.
While the new study only covers January to September, the WMO says the average global temperature was 1.1C above the pre-industrial figure.
This is getting dangerously close to the 1.5 degrees threshold that many island states feel temperatures must be kept under to ensure their survival.
The analysis suggests that 2017 is likely to come in 0.47C warmer than the 1981-2010 average.
This is slightly down on 2016 when the El Niño weather phenomenon saw temperatures that were 0.56C above the average. According to the WMO, this year vies with 2015 to be the second or third warmest mark yet recorded.
“The past three years have all been in the top three years in terms of temperature records. This is part of a long-term warming trend,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.
“We have witnessed extraordinary weather, including temperatures topping 50C in Asia, record-breaking hurricanes in rapid succession in the Caribbean and Atlantic, (and) reaching as far as Ireland, devastating monsoon flooding affecting many millions of people and a relentless drought in East Africa.
“Many of these events – and detailed scientific studies will determine exactly how many – bear the tell-tale sign of climate change caused by increased greenhouse gas concentrations from human activities,” he said.
Scientists will have to do attribution studies to clearly link specific events from 2017 to rising temperatures. But they believe the fingerprints of climate change are to be seen in events such as tropical cyclones, where the warmer seas can transfer more heat to the gathering storms and increased sea levels can make flooding more damaging.
The Accumulated Cyclone Energy Index, which measures the intensity and duration of these events, showed its highest ever monthly values in September this year.
It was also the first time that two Category 4 hurricanes made landfall in the same year in the US.
Hurricane Irma was a Category 5 storm for the longest period on record. Rain gauges in Nederland, Texas, recorded 1,539mm, the largest ever recorded for a single event in the mainland US.
There were also significant flooding events with large loss of life in Sierra Leone, in Nepal, India, Bangladesh and Peru among many others.
In contrast, droughts and heatwaves affected many parts of Africa and South America. In Somalia, more than half of cropland was impacted with herds reduced by 40-60%.
More than 11 million people are experiencing severe food insecurity in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.
“This year saw a multitude of damaging weather extremes which is not uncommon but many of these events were made more severe by the sustained warming influence of increasing atmospheric greenhouse gas levels due to human activities,” said Richard Allan, professor of climate science at the University of Reading, UK.
“An increased severity of weather extremes is expected in the decades ahead as Earth continues to heat up and it is only with the substantive cuts in greenhouse gas emissions required by the Paris climate agreement that we can avert much more potent and widespread damage to our societies and the ecosystems upon which they depend.”
With UN talks on climate change now underway here in Bonn, the report is likely to reinforce a sense of urgency among many delegates.
“These findings underline the rising risks to people, economies and the very fabric of life on Earth if we fail to get on track with the aims and ambitions of the Paris Agreement,” said Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of UN Climate Change, which is hosting the Bonn conference.
The White House has sought to downplay a major climate change report, which was compiled by 13 US federal agencies.
The study is at odds with assertions from President Donald Trump and several members of his administration.
It says it is “extremely likely” human activity is the “dominant cause” of global warming.
A spokesman for the White House said it supported “rigorous scientific analysis and debate” but added that the climate was “always changing”.
White House principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah said it was not certain how sensitive the Earth’s climate was to greenhouse gas emissions.
Mr Trump, who has embarked on a tour of Asia, once said the concept of global warming was created by the Chinese in order to make American manufacturing less competitive.
It argues that it is “extremely likely” that human activity is causing rapid global warming with dire consequences for the US and the world.
The scientists’ predictions include:
Running to nearly 500 pages, the report concludes that the current period is “now the warmest in the history of modern civilisation”.
It is “extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause”, it finds, adding that “there is no convincing alternative explanation”.
President Trump has made it easier for industry to pollute and he has appointed to key government positions men who are sceptical of their own scientists, the BBC’s James Cook, in Los Angeles, says.
Only on Thursday, Mr Trump’s Energy Secretary, Rick Perry, told US media that while he thought climate change was real and humans had an “impact on it”, he still thought “the science [was] out on” whether humans cause 100% of it.
The researchers say there was no political interference in, or censorship of, their report.