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How world leaders sugar-coat their emissions 

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Getting a clear answer on what exactly countries are doing to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions is a tricky business. As youth climate activist Greta Thunberg puts it, there’s a lot of ‘blah blah blah’.  

Published a few days before COP26, the UN’s Emissions Gap Report put the world on track for a global temperature rise of 2.7°C by the end of the century. It doesn’t take anyone well-versed in the future of our planet to realize that this is a catastrophic outcome.   

The report stressed that, in order to keep global warming below the aspirational 1.5°C of the Paris Climate Agreement, global greenhouse gas emissions would need to be halved in the next 8 years.  

Before the start of COP26, numerous key players and big emitters published their emission reduction targets for 2030. The phrasing of these targets, however, was confusing to say the least. A common theme was a promise to reduce emissions by a certain percentage according to a specific year’s levels by 2030.  

The United States, for instance, has committed to reducing its emissions by 50-52% below its 2005 levels by 2030. Whilst this is a sizeable decrease in their emissions, the phrasing overinflates just how large this decrease will be by implying that their emissions are being halved, when this is not necessarily the case. 

It is also just plain difficult to understand. The EU, Japan, South Korea, and other countries responsible for large emission rates are also guilty of this. However, this sugar-coating is nothing compared to China and Russia, respectively the largest and fifth-largest emitters, whose targets and policies completely misconstrue the reality of their carbon emissions.  

Russia has committed to a 30% reduction below 1990 levels by 2030. This would be great if they were reducing anything. In 2019, the volume of greenhouse gas emissions in Russia excluding land use was around 2.1 billion tons of C02 equivalent. Their ‘reduction’ promise for 2030, would see an increase from this 2019 figure to 2.4 billion tons of C02 equivalent, according to Climate Action Tracker estimates.  

China has not necessarily set any overarching emission reduction targets for 2030 – though they have planned for an over 65% reduction of carbon emissions per unit of GDP, compared to 2005 levels by 2030.  China also has plans to peak its carbon emissions before 2030 and has published different policies related to upping non-fossil fuels in primary energy, increasing forest stock volume, as well as wind and solar power within the country.  

Although these policies sound all well and green, they will not prevent China’s emissions from climbing. From 13.8 billion tons of CO2 equivalent in 2020 to between 13.2 and 14.2 billion tons of CO2 equivalent by 2030- China is on its way for either a minute decrease or an even further climb up the emissions ladder. Considering the fact that China accounts for a large portion of emissions, it is disappointing that they are not on track to halve their emissions as recommended by the UN Emissions Gap Report. 

The Climate Action Tracker lists the emission reduction targets and general policies of countries that account for the majority of emissions as insufficient to meet the 1.5°C target. Thus, we are not on track to meet the halfway point recommended by the UN Emissions Gap Report. 

It’s not all doom and gloom. The Glasgow Climate Pact has called for nations to replace their emissions reduction targets for 2030 by next year with more ambitious targets. In addition, China and America, the largest emitters, have agreed to talks. 

As the clock threatens to run out, we can only hope that leaders will listen to science and that their ‘blah blah blah’ turns into the worldwide action that we so desperately need. 

Featured image credit: Rappler, Illustration by Guia Abogado

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