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Earth Day: what's going on with the net-zero 2050 emissions target?

Friday, April 19, 2024 07:07 AM | Invezz via QuoteMedia

Earth Day: what’s going on with the net-zero 2050 emissions target?

2024-04-19 07:07:22 ET

Ahead of Earth Day on April 22, the world as we know it is struggling with emission issues.

In 2023, global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions increased by 1.1%, adding 410 million tonnes to reach a new peak of 37.4 billion tonnes, according to recent data from International Energy Agency.

This uptick follows a rise of 490 million tonnes in 2022, indicating a continued global reliance on fossil fuels, particularly coal, which was responsible for over 65% of the increase last year.

What does net zero mean?

Net zero refers to the balance achieved when the amount of carbon emissions released into the atmosphere is equal to the amount sequestered or offset.

This means drastically reducing emissions to a negligible level that can be naturally absorbed by the earth or through technological solutions, leaving no net emissions in the atmosphere.

Why is net zero important?

Climate science underscores the urgency of limiting global temperature increases to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels to prevent the most catastrophic effects of climate change.

With the planet already approximately 1.1°C warmer than in the late 1800s, the window to act is rapidly closing.

Achieving net zero emissions by 2050 is essential to meet this goal, necessitating a 45% reduction in emissions by 2030 as stipulated in the Paris Agreement.

How do we get to net zero?

The transition to a net-zero future involves a comprehensive overhaul of how societies produce energy, manage consumption, and organize transportation.

Approximately three-quarters of today’s greenhouse gas emissions originate from the energy sector. Substituting coal, oil, and gas with renewable energy sources like wind and solar is pivotal in reducing emissions.

Find more statistics at Statista

The movement towards net zero is gaining momentum globally, with over 140 countries—including major emitters like the USA, China, India, and the EU—pledging to achieve net-zero emissions.

This commitment also extends to over 9,000 companies, 1,000 cities, 1,000 educational institutions, and 600 financial institutions that have joined the Race to Zero campaign, aiming to halve emissions by 2030.

Ensuring commitments lead to action

The proliferation of net-zero commitments has led to the creation of various standards to ensure these pledges are robust and actionable.

In March 2022, UN Secretary-General António Guterres established a High-Level Expert Group on the Net-Zero Emissions Commitments of Non-State Entities, which presented its guidelines at COP27 on November 8, 2022.

These recommendations aim to standardize and expedite the implementation of net-zero commitments across the board.

Are we on track for 2050?

Despite these efforts, the current trajectory is insufficient.

The aggregated national climate plans of the 195 Paris Agreement signatories are projected to result in a nearly 9% increase in global greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 2010 levels.

This is far from the Paris Agreement’s call for a significant reduction. Effective action requires major emitters to enhance their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and adopt immediate, aggressive measures to curb emissions.

In advanced economies, GDP grew by 1.7% in 2023 while emissions fell by a remarkable 4.5%, the most significant decline seen outside of a recession period.

Emissions in these economies dropped by 520 million tonnes, returning to levels last seen fifty years ago. This decline is largely due to structural changes such as strong renewable energy deployment and coal-to-gas fuel switching in the United States.

Cyclical factors like reduced industrial production in certain countries and milder weather also contributed to this trend. Notably, coal demand in the G7 nations has returned to levels not seen since around 1900.

China and India’s emissions trends

China, however, saw its emissions grow by approximately 565 million tonnes in 2023, the largest increase globally, continuing its trend of emissions-intensive economic growth.

Despite a bad year for hydroelectric power, which contributed to one-third of this growth, China remains a leader in global clean energy development.

Meanwhile, in India, robust GDP growth led to a 190 million tonne increase in emissions.

A weak monsoon season exacerbated the situation by reducing hydroelectric power output and increasing reliance on other power sources, contributing to about one-quarter of India’s total emissions rise.

Despite this, per capita emissions in India are still well below the global average, while China’s per capita emissions are now 15% higher than those in advanced economies.

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