A new report reveals the world is going backward in combating greenhouse gas pollution, and if the problem isn’t fixed in 11 years, the world’s average temperature will rise and hit a dangerous mark.
The annual Global Carbon Budget report said the global fossil carbon dioxide emissions are returning to their 2019 levels after decreasing by 5.4% — 1.9 billion tons — in 2020. The report said emissions rose by 4.9% in 2021.
Pierre Friedlingstein, who authored the report, said the 2020 drop was due to the global COVID-19 lockdown when many people stopped driving and flying as stay-at-home orders were enforced. But as the economy rebounded and reopened, he said many coal and carbon emissions levels are starting to rise as people return to their pre-pandemic routines.
"In a sense, it was to be expected," Friedlingstein told FOX Television Stations Monday. "When your car is still the same car. The plane is still the same plane... things haven’t been changed during the pandemic."
Friedlingstein said what’s even more concerning is that the global temperature could rise by 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit if countries don’t take steps now to reduce carbon emissions. The 2015 Paris climate agreement set the temperature limit.
Friedlingstein said if the world hits the mark, we could see more frequent extreme weather over the next couple of decades.
"Wildfires in the U.S., wildfires in Russia," he continued. "Massive floods in western Europe."
Friedlingstein urged countries to come together and commit to reducing carbon emissions.
World leaders promised to protect Earth’s forests, cut methane emissions and help South Africa wean itself off coal at the U.N. climate summit last week — part of a flurry of deals intended to avert catastrophic global warming.
Britain hailed the commitment by more than 100 countries to end deforestation in the coming decade as the first big achievement of the conference in the Scottish city of Glasgow, known as COP26 — but experts noted such promises have been made and broken before.
Forests are important ecosystems and provide a critical way of absorbing carbon dioxide — the main greenhouse gas — from the atmosphere. But the value of wood as a commodity and the growing demand for agricultural and pastoral land are leading to widespread and often illegal felling of forests, particularly in developing countries. Indigenous peoples are often among the hardest hit.
Brazil’s government has been eager to project itself as a responsible environmental steward in the wake of surging deforestation and fires in the Amazon rainforest and Pantanal wetlands that sparked global outrage in recent years. Critics caution that its promises should be viewed with skepticism, and the country’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, is an outspoken proponent of developing the Amazon.
Last week, the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden launched a plan to reduce methane emissions, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes significantly to global warming. The announcement was part of a broader effort with the European Union and other nations to reduce overall methane emissions worldwide by 30% by 2030.
Clamping down on methane flaring and leaks from oil wells and gas pipelines — the focus of the Biden plan — is considered one of the easiest ways to cut emissions. Reducing methane from agriculture, in particular by belching cows, is a trickier matter.
Separately, the U.S., Britain, France and Germany announced a plan to provide $8.5 billion in loans and grants over five years to help South Africa phase out coal.
South Africa gets about 90% of its electricity from coal-fired plants, a major source of greenhouse gas emissions.
Tens of thousands of climate activists marched over the weekend to condemn government leaders for failing to produce the fast action they say is needed, with some echoing activist Greta Thunberg’s view last week that the talks were just more "blah, blah, blah."
Thunberg’s dismissive talk of the two-week climate summit has touched a nerve inside and outside the summit site. Government leaders and negotiators insist they are as equally aware as the marchers of the urgency of their task, with time slipping away to rein in pollution from fossil fuels before the Earth faces much higher levels of warming.
Marchers held signs with messages including "Code Red for Humanity," "Stop big polluters," "COP26, we are watching you" or simply "I’m angry." One sign asked "If not you, then who? If not now, then when?"
The climate protest movement — and the worsening droughts, storms, floods, wildfires and other disasters around the world this year — have brought home to many the accelerating damage of global warming and have kept the pressure on governments for stronger and faster action to reduce fossil fuel emissions.
Also over the weekend, Biden hailed Congress’ passage of his $1 trillion infrastructure package as a "monumental step forward for the nation" after fractious fellow Democrats resolved a months-long standoff in their ranks to seal the deal.
But a second, larger bill that deals with climate change hangs in the balance.
That 10-year, $1.85 trillion measure bolstering health, family and climate change programs was sidetracked after moderates demanded a cost estimate on the measure from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. The postponement dashed hopes that the day would produce a double-barreled win for Biden with passage of both bills.
The package would provide some $555 billion in tax breaks encouraging cleaner energy and electric vehicles, the nation’s largest commitment to tackling climate change.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.