Greenhouse gas levels hit record high last year, as UN warns 'we are way off track'

The UN weather agency warned the current rate of increase in heat-trapping gases would result in temperature rises "far in excess" of the 2015 Paris Agreement target and called for a "dramatic increase" in commitments at the upcoming COP26 summit.

Emissions from the smokestacks at the Jeffrey Energy Center coal power plant as the suns sets, near Emmett, Kansas, United States.

Emissions from the smokestacks at the Jeffrey Energy Center coal power plant as the suns sets, near Emmett, Kansas, United States. Source: AP

Greenhouse gas concentrations hit a record last year and the world is "way off track" in capping rising temperatures, the United Nations said on Monday in a stark illustration of the tasks facing UN climate talks in Scotland.

A report by the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) showed carbon dioxide levels surged to 413.2 parts per million in 2020, rising more than the average rate over the last decade despite a temporary dip in emissions during COVID-19 lockdowns.

WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said the current rate of increase in heat-trapping gases would result in temperature rises "far in excess" of the 2015 Paris Agreement target of 1.5 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial average this century.

"We are way off track," he said. "We need to revisit our industrial, energy and transport systems and whole way of life," he added, calling for a "dramatic increase" in commitments at the COP26 conference beginning on Sunday.

The city of Glasgow was putting on the final touches before hosting the climate talks, which may be the world's best remaining chance to cap global warming at the 1.5 to two degrees Celsius upper limit set out in the Paris Agreement.

Under countries' current pledges, global emissions would be 16 per cent higher in 2030 than they were in 2010, according to a separate analysis by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

That is far off the 45 per cent reduction by 2030 that scientists say is needed to cap warming at 1.5 degrees and avoid its most devastating impacts.

"Overshooting the temperature goals will lead to a destabilised world and endless suffering, especially among those who have contributed the least to the (greenhouse gas) emissions in the atmosphere," said Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC.

"We are nowhere near where science says we should be."

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told a news conference with children the summit was going to be "very, very tough". 

"I am very worried because it might go wrong and we might not get the agreements that we need and it is touch and go, it is very, very difficult, but I think it can be done," he said.

The German government announced Chancellor Angela Merkel will travel to Glasgow to take part. Russian President Vladimir Putin will not attend in person. He and Chinese President Xi Jinping are expected to make video appearances instead.

Britain is seeking support from major powers for a more radical plan to tackle global warming. Mr Johnson urged Mr Putin, for instance, to bring forward by 10 years Russia's target for achieving net zero carbon emissions, from 2060 to 2050, Mr Johnson's office said on Monday.

The Kremlin said Mr Putin promised that Russia's delegation to Glasgow "will contribute to a successful work of such an important international forum". 

'Source of deep frustration'

The stakes for the planet are huge - among them the very survival of low-lying countries, the impact on economic livelihoods the world over and the future stability of the global financial system.

Alok Sharma, the president of COP26, said developed nations are set to be three years late meeting a pledge to commit a total of $667 billion (US$500 billion) to help poorer countries tackle climate change.

Rich nations vowed in 2009 to deliver $134 billion (US $100 billion) a year for five years, starting in 2020. But a plan on how to do so, prepared by Canada and Germany ahead of the summit, said the annual target would now not be met until 2023.

"Understandably, this has been a source of deep frustration for developing countries," Mr Sharma told a televised news conference.

Saudi Arabia's crown prince launched a Middle East Green Initiative on Monday which he said aimed to invest $13.8 billion (39 billion riyals) to reduce carbon emissions in the region and protect the environment.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said on Saturday that the world's top oil exporter aims to reach "net zero" emissions of greenhouse gases by 2060 - 10 years later than the United States. He also said it would double the emissions cuts it plans to achieve by 2030.
 

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Published 26 October 2021 at 7:27am
Source: Reuters - SBS