Only one-third of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change‘s first full climate analysis and goals report since 2013 will be ready before the upcoming UN COP26 summit begins on October 31. It will also once again pull its punches by putting politics ahead of saving humanity.
Oregon's Bootleg fire, the largest in the history of the United States cpvering a region as big as Los Angeles or Phoenix, was burning completely out of control when this satellite image was taken on July 18, 2021. Despite this happening directly because of the accelerating climate crisis, world leaders will likely continue to look the other way and let the rest of the world burn before any real solutions come forth to slow the pace of global heating. Photo: NASA Earth Observatory
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its last report eight years ago. That was considered pivotal as the signal biggest scientific analysis ever of the pace and implications of the heating on the planet and catastrophic climate disruption.
That report provided the impetus for two important developments in climate policy. The first was the 2015 adoption of the Paris Agreement, which brought together nations for the first time to pledge their commitments to curtailing carbon emissions, with differing targets and methodologies to achieve those objectives, depending on the country and situation. The second was the setting of a goal to keep global temperature rise this century at “well below” 2° C compared to pre-industrial levels. That number eventually morphed to become a target of keeping global heating to 1.5° C or less by 2100.
As has been revealed since the last IPCC report came out, both policy decisions have proved to be dismal failures. The Paris Agreement stalled because of the utter lack of political will to curtail emissions virtually anywhere and the weakness of the IPCC message. The temperature target chosen as the basis for those emissions cuts turned out to be a sham, with the real numbers being far worse than anyone wanted to admit.
Carbon Emissions Continue to Grow Despite All the Warnings
As the years since the 2013 report have borne out, the goals set for the nations to restrain their carbon-emitting habits have been blown through by almost every country. China, the number one carbon emitting country in the world responsible for 27.8% of the world’s total carbon output, saw its annual carbon dioxide output rise to 9.43 billion metric tons in 2018 compared to what it was in 2005, the year the famous Kyoto Protocol was agreed upon. That’s an increase of 54.6%. The number three top polluter in the world, India, saw its annual CO2 emissions grow by 105.8% in the same period. That put its total carbon dioxide output at 2.48 billion metric tons, for 7.3% of the total.
In the years since the Kyoto Protocol was established, only three countries among the top ten emitters saw their emissions outputs decrease as of 2018. Germany, at number 6 on the list in 2018, fell to 0.73 billion metric tons, a drop of 11.7% for a 2.1% share of the global total carbon emissions output. Japan came in at number 5 with 1.15 billion metric tons, for a net drop of 10.1% in its output and putting it at now responsible for 3.4% of the world’s total. The U.S. showed a more spectacular drop of 12.1% since 2005, with its emissions closing at 5.15 billion metric tons in 2018; that still left the U.S. with the second-highest share of carbon dioxide output at 15.2% total.
While the numbers there do make it clear that China, the U.S., and India have the most to do to make a difference in global carbon emissions, a second statistic that is perhaps even more critical in explaining what is wrong with current carbon emissions curtailment plans is the rank of countries in terms of the total carbon emissions per capita. According to that analysis, the worst nation in the world in emissions in 2017 was Canada, with 18.58 tons per person compared to a global average of 4.79 tons. The second worst was Saudi Arabia, with 15.94 tons per person. In third place was the United States, with 15.52 tons per person. By comparison, China, because of its enormous population, averages out at 7.38 tons per person.
The United States therefore wins the dubious achievement award in the climate crisis for being the only nation which falls within the top three polluters both in total and per person carbon dioxide output.
The Earth Was Already Hotter than 1.5° C Over Pre-Industrial Times as of 2015
The second flaw with the 2015 Paris Accords was that goal of keeping the planet from heating up by more than 1.5° C compared to how hot it was in the mid-1800s.
As multiple analyses have shown since then, the average temperatures have already surged as much as 3° C – and sometimes more, especially in the already nearly-unlivable regions of the Middle East desert nations – compared to what they were 170 years ago.
Even the UN’s own executive secretary of its Framework Convention on Climate Change, Patricia Espinosa, an individual who has been embedded in review of the IPCC’s latest scientific data, makes it clear the planet has already heated enough that even the most optimistic of projections say the planet is in far more trouble than political pundits and much of the UN leadership itself would like to admit.
“The reality is that we are not on track to achieve the Paris Agreement goals of limiting climate change to 1.5 degrees by the end of the century," Ms. Espinosa said Monday in a statement. “In fact, we’re on the opposite track, heading for more than a 3 degrees [Centigrade] rise.”
Espinosa’s number is, by almost any standard, wrong by at least 50% off, with numbers from 4.5 degrees to 6 degrees being more likely. For those doubting that, consider that temperatures during the recent heat waves in the western North America continent have been consistently 5 to 10 degrees Centigrade higher than normal for weeks on end since late Spring of this year.
Further, the climate crisis has evolved to the point that secondary climate change effects and feedback loops are already in motion which are nearly unstoppable. Among them are that the Arctic, Antarctic, Greenland, and Himalayas have already lost so much ice that the lowered albedo (reflectance) of the Earth’s surface is causing more solar energy to be absorbed every day. A second effect is the destruction of the permafrost from both high temperatures and wildfires (particularly in Siberia), which is now causing virtually unstoppable increases in carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere at record levels. A third is that rainforests like the Amazon, which had been relied upon for years of scientific calculations as a place for carbon dioxide to be reabsorbed, are now mostly net carbon emitters rather than carbon absorbers. There are many others.
The State of the Current IPCC Report
The latest edition of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change claims it will be addressing at least the first of the two failures from the Paris Accords – the lack of progress by the nations – by providing regional impact assessments and recommendations.
Since the earlier report summarized everything at a global level, it was all too easy for individual countries to dodge explicit responsibility in their territories. They could – and did – hide behind that this was a worldwide issue with many different contributing parts.
This time having climate crisis impact projections by region could help delineate which regions need to take what specific actions to at least slow the pace of the climate crisis.
Another change for the new IPCC document is it will provide a clearer set of operating scenarios for how the climate crisis may evolve in the future, and what the implications would be for policy under each. The scenarios will include consideration of climate crisis driven catastrophes such as increased extreme weather, drought, and sea level rise among various populations.
Those close to the document are also hopeful the report will make it clearer that the wealthiest and heaviest carbon-emitting nations have a higher level of responsibility to take action to slow the pace of global heating. Those hopes probably will remain just that, since the wealthy nations have rarely if ever taken actions which sacrifice their well-being in any significant way, to help others.
The new IPCC report will come in three parts. The first part is to be published August 9 and will cover the physical science presentations in the document. The second, which reviews the impacts of the climate crisis, is not planned for release until February 2022. The third, which recommends options to save the planet from those impacts, will not surface until March 2022.
Even if the document were brilliant, it is hard to understand why Petteri Taal, head of the UN World Meteorological Organization, yesterday told 700 delegates planning to attend the COP26 summit the IPCC report will be "critical for the success of the Glasgow climate conference in November." If the only part which is available to review then is the recitation of the state of the physical universe, the impact information and policy recommendations will not even be agreed up on at that point.
In the end even that will not matter anyway. This is the sort of crisis which only grips a nation when it is embedded in its grasp.
The United States may slowly be beginning to “get it” with its already strange climate year beginning with the polar vortex in February which derived from an Arctic heat bubble in January, record-setting high temperatures and wildfires starting last month in the Pacific Northwest, and a drought which should cause the Bureau of Reclamation to issue its first water cutback order next month. Unfortunately for all those directly affected by any of these, the politicians will fight each other and prevent any real definitive action and a significant percentage of Americans will deny the climate is changing to their grave.
Germany, Belgium, and China may be beginning to “get it” after their recent once-in-a-century floods on multiple continents within less than two weeks of each other. They are however already proving to be focused more on disaster recovery rather than anticipating more of this in the future.
Russia may also be beginning to “get it” as it tackles the worst wildfires in the history of Siberia. They too are overwhelmed by what is happening and unclear on how to manage through it and the Russian dictatorship is still promoting climate denial.
Most nations are not seeing the same effects, at least not as severely, and will continue to ignore their own contributions to and impacts from the climate crisis. And even in those nations which are being deluged, pummeled, dried out, or burned to ruins from the impacts of the climate crisis, it will continue to be far too easy to treat these as past disasters which must be cleaned up rather than future ones which will surely be even worse in the future.