The world is heading toward a 3.2 degrees C increase in global temperatures over pre-industrial levels, which could lead to wide ranging and “more destructive” climate impacts, according to the United Nations (UN).
A report issued Tuesday by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) came as the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported that total domestic energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2018 rose to 5.27 billion metric tons, 2.7% more than the 2017 level and the first annual increase since 2014.
According to the UN’s annual Emissions Gap Report, which compares where greenhouse gas emissions are heading versus where experts say they need to be, CO2 emissions would need to fall by 7.6% a year over the next decade for the world to track toward the goal of limiting temperature increases to close to 1.5 degrees C.
“If the world warms by more than 1.5 degrees, we will see more frequent, and intense, climate impacts -- as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has demonstrated in several hard hitting reports -- such as the heatwaves and storms witnessed in recent years,” UNEP experts said.
“Our collective failure to act early and hard on climate change means we now must deliver deep cuts to emissions,” said UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen.
In December 2020, countries are expected to step up their climate commitments, or Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC), at the UN Climate Conference, known as the COP26, which is to be held in Glasgow, Scotland.
“We need quick wins to reduce emissions as much as possible in 2020, then stronger nationally determined contributions to kick-start the major transformations of economies and societies,” Anderson said. “We need to catch up on the years in which we procrastinated,” or the 1.5 C goal “will be out of reach before 2030.”
The UNEP report called on all countries, particularly the Group of 20 most developed economies otherwise known as the G20, to reduce emissions and increase their NDCs in 2020, as well as put into place the policies to implement the commitments
The G20, of which the United States is a member, contribute 78% of all CO2 emissions, according to the UNEP. Only five of the G20 countries have committed to a long-term zero emissions target. President Trump plans to formally pull the United States from the Paris Agreement, effective in November 2020.
"Because of climate procrastination which we have essentially had during these (past) 10 years, we are looking at a 7.6% reduction every year" in emissions, Anderson said. "Is that possible? Absolutely. Will it take political will? Yes. Will we need to have the private sector lean in? Yes. But the science tells us that we can do this.”
UNEP has also issued the first assessment of plans and outlooks by countries for fossil fuel production. Across 10 fossil-fuel producing countries, governments are planning to produce about 50% more fossil fuels by 2030 than would be consistent with the UN’s 2 degree C pathway and 120% more than would be consistent with a 1.5 degree C pathway.
The production gap is largest for coal, researchers found, but oil and gas also are on track to exceed carbon budgets, “as countries continue to invest in fossil fuel infrastructure that ‘locks in’ oil and gas use,” according to the report
“The effects of this lock-in widen the production gap over time, until countries are producing 43% (36 million b/d) more oil and 47% (1,800 billion cubic meters) more gas by 2040 than would be consistent with a 2 degree C pathway.”
Meanwhile, in a Today in Energy note Tuesday, EIA said gas consumption and emissions increased in 2018 mostly because of colder winter and hotter summer weather.
“Because both heating and cooling demand were higher in 2018, total natural gas emissions increased by 10%,” researchers said.
U.S. petroleum consumption also increased in 2018, contributing to a 1.9% increase in energy-related CO2 emissions from petroleum. “Relatively strong” economic growth boosted diesel consumption, which resulted in a 6% increase in related emissions.
However, domestic coal-related CO2 emissions in 2018 declined year/year by 4% in 2018, making it the only fossil fuel with lower CO2 emissions versus 2017.
Total U.S. emissions from natural gas had first surpassed emissions from coal in 2015, and gas consumption increasingly has displaced coal in the electric power sector in recent years.
In related news, a new Pew Research Center survey found that most Americans think the federal government is doing too little to protect water or air quality to help reduce the effects of climate change.
Most Americans also believe “the United States should focus on developing alternative sources of energy over expansion of fossil fuel sources,” according to the survey of 3,627 U.S. adults conducted Oct. 1-Oct. 13.
About two-thirds of U.S. adults (67%) said the federal government is doing too little to reduce the effects of climate change, and a similar number said the same about government efforts to protect air (67%) and water quality (68%). The findings were consistent with results from a 2018 Pew survey.
“While there is strong consensus among Democrats (90%, including independents who lean to the Democratic Party) on the need for more government efforts to reduce the effects of climate change, Republican views are divided along ideological, generational and gender lines.”
Most moderate/liberal Republicans (65%, including GOP-leaning independents) said the federal government is doing too little to reduce the effects of climate change.
However, only about 24% of conservative Republicans said the same, while 48% think the government is doing about the right amount and 26% said it is doing too much.
There also are divisions by age. Of younger Republicans in the Millennial and Generation Z generation, ages 18-38 in 2019, 52% said the government is doing too little on climate. By comparison, 41% of Generation Xers and 31% of Baby Boomer/older Americans said this.
Republican women (46%) also are more inclined than GOP men (34%) to think the government’s efforts on climate are insufficient.
Overall, about 77% said the more important energy priority should be developing alternative energy sources rather than increasing U.S. production of fossil fuels.
“The vast majority of Democrats (90%) believe the U.S. should prioritize alternative energy development over expanded oil, coal and natural gas exploration and production,” the survey found. “While generally supportive of prioritizing alternative energy sources, Republicans differ by ideology and generation, and more modestly by gender, in their views of U.S. energy supply priorities.”
Compared with 2017, the survey found support for prioritizing alternative energy development up among both Democrats and Republicans. The 2017 survey, which was conducted by telephone, found 5% of the public said both alternative energy and fossil fuels should be equal priorities.