Despite Covid-19, the planet continues to warm by 3 degrees

The drop in greenhouse gas emissions due to the Covid-19 pandemic will have an effect “Insignificant” on the evolution of global warming, warned Wednesday, December 9 the UN. The temperature of the planet is still likely to increase by three more degrees by the end of the XXIe century, far from the objectives of the Paris agreement, which will be five years old on Saturday.

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Three days from a “Climate ambition summit” which aims to give new impetus to international commitments to keep global warming below 2 ° C, and if possible 1.5 ° C, compared to the pre-industrial era, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) warns in its annual report that the post-Covid recovery will have to be seriously greened if the world is to avoid the worst.

7% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in 2020

To maintain hope of limiting global warming to 1.5 ° C, greenhouse gas emissions should be reduced by 7.6% per year, each year from 2020 until 2030, according to the UN . These emissions increased on average by 1.5% per year over the last decade, reaching a record in 2019 (59.1 gigatonnes, or billion tonnes, i.e. + 2.6% more than in 2018).

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The Covid-19 pandemic, by shutting down for many months a good part of the world economy and human activities, caused a sharp fall. Emissions should thus drop by around 7% in 2020 for CO2, the main greenhouse gas (a little less for the others).

But this turnaround is cyclical and will have only one effect “Negligible” in the long term, with around 0.01 degree of warming avoided by 2050, warn UN experts. And by the end of the century, the warming trajectory is estimated at 3.2 ° C more, even if all of Paris’s current commitments were kept, which is often far from being the case.

The pandemic as a lesson

However, with +1 ° C recorded since the pre-industrial era, the effects of warming are already noticeable. The five years since the signing of the Paris Agreement have been the warmest on record and “Fires, storms and droughts continue to wreak havoc while the ice is melting at an unprecedented rate”, underlines the patron of UNEP, Inger Andersen.

→ READ. November 2020, the hottest on record in the world

Behind this bleak picture, the UN wants to see good news: the pandemic can serve as a lesson and the world can implement a real “Green recovery” : direct and massive support for carbon-free infrastructure and technologies, reductions in fossil fuel subsidies, end of coal-fired power stations, development of “Nature-based solutions”, large-scale reforestation for example.

Which would allow “Reduce by up to 25% the emissions expected for 2030 on the basis of pre-Covid-19 policies” and give a 66% chance of containing the warming below 2 ° C, let alone 1.5 ° C.

COP26 postponed to 2021

UNEP therefore encourages States that have announced timetables towards “Carbon neutrality” to immediately implement strategies to achieve them. Because climate diplomacy has also been disrupted by the pandemic and the COP26, which was to collect the new enhanced commitments, had to be postponed by one year to November 2021. Even if the States must nevertheless submit their new commitments by now at the end of the year.

The UN also warns that “Equity” in the efforts will be “Central” for success, since the emissions of the richest 1% of the world’s population are double that of the poorest half. “The pandemic is the warning that we must urgently leave our path of destructive development, the engine of the three planetary crises: climate change, loss of biodiversity and pollution”, concludes the head of UNEP.


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