The EU on Wednesday updated its conditions for poorer nations to win privileged access to the European market with a demand they fall in line with the bloc’s green ambitions.
The changes are part of the European Commission’s update to a scheme dating from 1971, known as the Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP), that offers easier access to the EU market for goods exported from developing countries.
The EU executive will now make sticking to environmental safeguards a condition for countries to keep enjoying the smoother GSP access for selling goods into Europe.
Under the GSP, the EU can put pressure on developing countries that veer away from internationally set standards on human rights, labour norms and other issues.
Last year, for example, the EU restored tariffs on goods imported from Cambodia over perceived human rights violations.
“There is no need to overhaul the scheme, as we did 10 years ago. But we have done some fine-tuning… to bring the scheme closer in line with our trade sustainability principles,” said Valdis Dombrovskis, the EU trade commissioner.
In addition, the scheme, which is broken down into several categories of countries, will add six more conventions to the current 27 that countries must comply with to receive the trade advantages.
The EU will also replace the Kyoto Protocol with the Paris agreement on climate change.
The United Nations warned Wednesday that weather-related disasters have skyrocketed over the past half-century, causing far more damage even as better warning systems have meant fewer deaths.
A report from the UN’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO) examined mortality and economic losses from weather, climate and water extremes between 1970 and 2019.
It found that such disasters have increased fivefold during that period, driven largely by a warming planet, and warned the upward trend would continue.
“The number of weather, climate and water extremes are increasing and will become more frequent and severe in many parts of the world as a result of climate change,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a statement.
In total, there were more than 11,000 of disasters attributed to these hazards globally since 1970, causing more than two million deaths and some $3.64 trillion in losses.
– 115 deaths each day –
On average, a disaster linked to weather, climate and water extremes has thus occurred every single day over the past 50 years, killing 115 people and causing $202 million in daily losses, WMO found.
More than 91 percent of the deaths occurred in developing countries, it said.
Droughts were responsible for the largest losses of human life during the period, alone accounting for some 650,000 deaths, while storms have left over 577,000 people dead.
Floods have meanwhile killed nearly 59,000 over the past 50 years and extreme temperatures have killed close to 56,000, the report found.
On a positive note, the report found that even as the number of weather and climate-related disasters ballooned over the past half-century, the number of associated deaths declined nearly threefold.
The toll fell from over 50,000 deaths each year in the 1970s to fewer than 20,000 in the 2010s, WMO said.
And while the 1970s and 1980 reported an average of 170 related deaths per day, the daily average in the 1990s fell to 90, and then to 40 in the 2010s.
Taalas said dramatic improvements in early warning systems were largely to thank for the drop in deaths.
“Quite simply, we are better than ever before at saving lives,” he said.
– More people exposed –
WMO stressed though that much remains to be done, with only half of the agency’s 193 member states currently housing the life-saving multi-hazard early warning systems.
It also cautioned that severe gaps remained in weather and hydrological observing networks in Africa and parts of Latin America and in Pacific and Caribbean island states.
Mami Mizutori, who heads the UN office for disaster risk reduction, also hailed the life-saving impact of the improved early warning systems.
But she warned in the statement that “the number of people exposed to disaster risk is increasing due to population growth in hazard-exposed areas and the growing intensity and frequency of weather events.”
And while early warning systems save lives, they have done little to shield disaster-prone areas from swelling economic damage.
In fact, the reported losses from 2010 to 2019 stood at $383 million per day — seven times more than the some $49 million in average daily losses in the 1970s.
Seven of the costliest 10 disasters in the past 50 years have happened since 2005, with three of them in 2017 alone: Hurricane Harvey, which caused nearly $97 billion in damages, followed by Maria at close to $70 billion and Irma at almost $60 billion.
World leaders, green groups and influencers reacted Monday to a “terrifying” UN climate science report with a mix of horror and hopefulness as the scale of the emergency dawned on many.
US presidential envoy on climate John Kerry said the IPCC report, which warned the world is on course to reach 1.5C of warming around 2030, showed “the climate crisis is not only here, it is growing increasingly severe”.
Frans Timmermans, the European Union’s deputy climate chief said the 3,500-page report proved “it’s not too late to stem the tide and prevent runaway climate change”.
Britain’s Boris Johnson, whose government is hosting a crucial climate summit in November, said the assessment “makes for sobering reading”.
“I hope today’s IPCC report will be a wake-up call for the world to take action now, before we meet in Glasgow in November for the critical COP26 summit,” he said.
Former Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed said the document confirmed that climate vulnerable nations were “on the edge of extinction”.
– ‘Suicidal’ –
Saleemul Huq, director of Dhaka-based environmental think tank ICCCAD, said the IPCC report was “the final warning that bubble of empty promises is about to burst”.
He said it showed G20 countries needed to accelerate emissions cuts to ensure their economies are in line with the 1.5C target.
“It’s suicidal, and economically irrational to keep procrastinating,” said Huq.
Dorothy Guerrero, head of policy at Global Justice Now, said the report was a “terrifying warning of our future unless drastic action is taken.”
“There is no denying the science of the climate crisis,” she said.
“But policymakers refuse to face up to the fact that it is rooted in economics and a history of colonial exploitation.”
– Action –
Many interpreted the IPCC’s assessment as a clarion call to overhaul the fossil-fuel powered global economy.
“Where can we start? Almost everywhere,” said Katherine Hayhoe, chief scientist for The Nature Conservancy.
“Accelerating the transition to clean energy; reforming our most environmentally-damaging activities; and recalibrating financial flows to accelerate the economic transition.”
Climate wunderkind Greta Thunberg said the report was a “solid (but cautious) summary” of the state of the planet.
“It doesn’t tell us what to do,” she said on Twitter.
“It is up to us to be brave and take decisions based on the scientific evidence provided in these reports. We can still avoid the worst consequences, but not if we continue like today, and not without treating the crisis like a crisis.”
Ugandan climate justice activist Vanessa Nakate tweeted “Scientists warn time running out on the 1.5C target! World leaders must get serious about climate change!”
– Fossil fall guys –
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Monday’s report “must sound a death knell” for coal, oil and gas and warned that fossil fuels were destroying the planet.
Greenpeace was even more direct.
“Dear fossil fuel industry,” the charity said on Twitter. “We’ll see you in court.”
Britain hosts climate and environment ministers from 51 countries on Sunday for “critical” climate talks ahead of November’s COP26 summit in Glasgow.
British minister Alok Sharma, President of COP26, will lead the two-day meeting, which London said will address “key issues that require resolution” at the summit.
Sharma “hopes to build common ground and sketch the outline of the Glasgow outcome,” according to a statement released by the British government.
Environment and climate ministers from the US, India and China will be among those taking part in the closed-door meeting, which will include both virtual and in-person attendance.
It is the first face-to-face ministerial meeting of its kind in more than 18 months.
“We are facing perilous times for our planet and the only way we will safeguard its future is if countries are on the same path,” said Sharma.
“The world will be watching to see whether we come together in Glasgow and do what is necessary to turn things around in this decisive decade,” he added.
“It is essential that together we roll up our sleeves, find common ground and collectively draw out how we will build a greener, brighter future for our children and future generations.”
The event will cover the goal of keeping to the 1.5C temperature rise limit, exploring topics such as climate finance, efforts to adapt to climate change, and finalising the “rulebook” for implementation of the Paris Agreement.
Negotiators from 196 countries and the European Union, along with businesses, experts and world leaders are expected to attend.
US climate envoy John Kerry said this week that the summit marked a “pivotal moment for the world to come together to meet and master the climate challenge.
“Glasgow is the place, 2021 is the time and we can, in a little more than 100 days, save the next 100 years.
“Above all we need to provide action, and we need to do it now, because time is running out,” he added.
What worries one of the world’s leading climate scientists the most?
Heatwaves — and particularly the tendency of current models to underestimate the intensity of these bursts of deadly, searing temperature.
This is one of the “major mysteries” science still has to unravel, climatologist Robert Vautard told AFP, even as researchers are able to pinpoint with increasing accuracy exactly how human fossil fuel pollution is warming the planet and altering the climate.
“Today we have better climate projection models, and longer observations with a much clearer signal of climate change,” said Vautard, one of the authors of an upcoming assessment by the United Nations’ panel of climate experts.
“It was already clear, but it is even clearer and more indisputable today.”
The assessment, the first part of a trio of reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), will be released on August 9 at the end of meetings starting Monday.
It focuses on the science underpinning our understanding of things like temperature increases, rising ocean levels and extreme weather events.
This has progressed considerably since the last assessment in 2014, but so has climate change itself, with effects being felt ever more forcefully across the planet.
– ‘Phenomenal’ heat – Scientists now have a greater understanding of the mechanisms behind “extreme phenomena, which now occur almost every week around the world”, said Vautard, adding that this helps better quantify how these events will play out in the future.
In almost real time, researchers can pinpoint the role of climate change in a given disaster, something they were unable to do at all until very recently.
Now, so-called “attribution” science means we can say how probable an extreme weather event would have been had the climate not been changing at all.
For example, within days of the extraordinary “heat dome” that scorched the western United States and Canada at the end of June, scientists from the World Weather Attribution calculated that the heatwave would have been “almost impossible” without warming.
Despite these advances, Vautard said “major mysteries remain”.
Scientists are still unsure what part clouds play “in the energy balance of the planet” and their influence on the climate’s sensitivity to greenhouse gases, he said.
But it is “phenomenal temperatures”, like those recorded in June in Canada or in Europe in 2019, that preoccupy the climatologist.
“What worries me the most are the heat waves” and the “thousands of deaths” they cause, said Vautard, who is director of France’s Pierre-Simon Laplace Institute, a climate research and teaching centre.
With rainfall, scientists have a physical law that says water vapour increases by seven percent for every degree of warming, he said, with intense precipitation increasing by about the same amount.
But extreme heat is harder to predict.
“We know that heatwaves are more frequent, but we also know that our models underestimate the increasing intensity of these heatwaves, particularly in Europe, by a factor of two,” he said.
Climate models have come a long way, even since 2014, but there is still room for improvement to reduce these uncertainties.
“Before we had models that represented the major phenomena in the atmosphere, in the oceans,” said Vautard.
Today the models divide the planet’s surface into grids, with each square around 10 kilometres (six miles).
But even now he said the “resolution of the models is not sufficient” for very localised phenomena.
The next generation of models should be able to add even more detail, going down to an area of about a kilometre.
That would give researchers a much better understanding of “small scale” events, like tornadoes, hail or storm systems that bring intense rain like those seen in parts of the Mediterranean in 2020.
– Tipping points – Even on a global scale, some fundamental questions remain.
Perhaps one of the most ominous climate concepts to have become better understood in recent years is that of “tipping points”.
These could be triggered for example by the melting of the ice caps or the decline of the Amazon rainforest, potentially swinging the climate system into dramatic and irreversible changes.
There are still “a lot of uncertainties and mysteries” about tipping points, Vautard said, including what level of temperature rise might set them off.
Currently, they are seen as low probability events, but he said that it is still crucial to know more about them given the “irreversible consequences on the scale of millennia” that they could cause.
Another crucial uncertainty is the state of the world’s forests and oceans, which absorb about half of the CO2 emitted by humans.
“Will this carbon sink function continue to be effective or not?” Vautard said.
If they stop absorbing carbon — as has been found in areas of the Amazon, for example — then more C02 will accumulate in the atmosphere, raising temperatures even further.
The United Nations warned Tuesday that hunger levels are soaring across much of Central America as countries battle economic crises sparked by the Covid-19 pandemic and extreme climate events.
The UN’s World Food Programme said that levels of hunger had risen nearly four-fold in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, from 2.2 million people affected in 2018 to nearly eight million now.
Of that figure, some 1.7 million people are considered to be in the “emergency” category of food insecurity, meaning they need urgent food assistance, WFP said, urging more international support.
The UN agency said the region, where years of drought and erratic weather had already disrupted food production, had been especially hard-hit by the record 2020 Atlantic hurricane season.
“Hurricanes Eta and Iota, that struck Central America in November 2020, upended the lives of 6.8 million people who lost their homes and livelihoods,” WFP pointed out.
The hurricanes came as the pandemic was already taking a devastating toll, and dealt a severe blow to millions who had previously been relatively untouched by hunger, including people working in the service economy and the tourism sector.
The hurricanes destroyed more than 200,000 hectares of vital crops across the four countries and more than 10,000 hectares of coffee farmland in Honduras and Nicaragua.
“Considering the level of destruction and setbacks faced by those affected, we expect this to be a long and slow recovery,” said WFP regional chief for Latin America and the Caribbean Miguel Barreto.
– ‘Rock bottom’ –
Before those hurricanes hit, Covid-19 was already taking a devastating toll, as an overwhelming majority of households in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador reported income losses or unemployment.
WFP surveys showed that the number of households in Guatemala reporting they did not have enough to eat had almost doubled compared to pre-pandemic figures, while the numbers in Honduras rose by more than 50 percent.
“Urban and rural communities in Central America have hit rock bottom,” Barreto warned.
“The Covid-19-induced economic crisis had already put food on the market shelves out of reach for the most vulnerable people when the twin hurricanes Eta and Iota battered them further,” he said.
“Many now have nowhere to live and are staying in temporary shelters, surviving on next to nothing.”
With so many homes and farms destroyed, food stocks running out and few opportunities to find work, nearly 15 percent of people surveyed by WFP in January said they were laying concrete plans to migrate.
That marks a significant jump from the eight percent who said they were doing so in a WFP post-drought assessment in 2018.
WFP appealed to international donors to step up support, saying it needed more than $47 million to help 2.6 million people across the four countries over the next six months alone.
Time was running out to save dozens of people trapped inside a tunnel three days after a devastating flash flood likely caused by a glacier burst in India’s Himalayan north, officials said Wednesday.
More than 170 people were still missing after a barrage of water and debris hurtled with terrifying speed and power down a valley on Sunday morning, sweeping away bridges and roads and hitting two hydroelectric plants.
Thirty-two bodies have been found so far, officials said on Wednesday. It may take days for more bodies to be recovered under the tonnes of rocks and other debris and the thick blanket of grey mud.
Twenty-five of the bodies were yet to be identified. Many of the victims are poor workers from hundreds of miles away in other parts of India whose whereabouts at the time of the disaster may not be known.
The main focus of the massive rescue operation, underway day and night since Sunday, is a tunnel near a severely damaged hydroelectric plant that was under construction at Tapovan in Uttarakhand state.
Workers there have been battling their way through hundreds of tonnes of sludge, boulders, and other obstacles to try and reach 34 people who rescuers hope are alive in air pockets.
“As time passes, the chances of finding them are reducing. But miracles do happen,” Piyoosh Rautela, a senior state disaster relief official told AFP.
“There’s only so much that one can do. We can’t push in multiple bulldozers together. We are working round the clock — man, the machinery we are all working round the clock. But the amount of debris is so much that it’s going to take a while to remove all that,” he said.
Vivek Pandey, a spokesman for the border police told the Times of India that if the 34 are alive, the biggest concern is hypothermia, “which can be fatal in such conditions”.
Outside the tunnel, there were medical teams on standby with oxygen cylinders and stretchers, as well as anxious relatives.
Shuhil Dhiman, 47, said that his brother-in-law Praveen Diwan, a private contractor, and father of three, had driven into the tunnel on Sunday morning with three others when the flood-hit.
“We don’t know what happened to him. We went near the tunnel but there are tonnes of slush coming out. The tunnel has a sharp slope from the opening and I think water and slush have gone deep inside,” Shuhil Dhiman told AFP.
“I am hoping against hope,” he said. “The authorities are doing their best but the situation is beyond anyone’s ability.”
The disaster has been blamed on rapidly melting glaciers in the Himalayan region caused by global warming.
Building activity for dams, the dredging of riverbeds for sand, and the clearing of trees for new roads — some to beef up defence on the Chinese border — are other factors.
The 2020-2021 La Nina phenomenon has passed its peak, the UN weather agency said Tuesday, but its impact on temperatures, rain and storm patterns is set to continue.
La Nina refers to the large-scale cooling of surface temperatures in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean, occurring every two to seven years.
The effect has widespread impacts on weather around the world — typically the opposite impacts to the El Nino warming phase in the Southern Oscillation cycle.
Besides the cooling effect, La Nina is usually associated with wetter conditions in some parts of the world, and drier conditions in others.
La Nina conditions have been in place since August-September 2020, according to atmospheric and oceanic indicators.
“La Nina appears to have peaked in October-November as a moderate strength event,” said the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).
The WMO said there was a 65 percent likelihood that La Nina will persist during February-April. The odds shift rapidly thereafter, with a 70 percent chance that the tropical Pacific will return to neutral conditions in the cycle by April-June.
“El Nino and La Nina are major drivers of the Earth’s climate system,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.
“But all naturally-occurring climate events now take place in the context of human-induced climate change, which is increasing global temperatures, exacerbating extreme weather, impacting seasonal rainfall patterns and complicating disaster prevention and management.”
The temporary global cooling effects of La Nina were not enough to prevent 2020 from being one of the three warmest years on record.
“Despite the general cooling influence of La Nina events, land temperatures are expected to be above-normal for most parts of the globe in February-April 2021,” the WMO said.
“La Nina and El Nino effects on average global temperatures are typically strongest in the second year of the event, but it remains to be seen to what extent the current La Nina will influence global temperatures in 2021,” the United Nations agency added.
– Warmer temperatures expected –
In a global seasonal climate update, the WMO said that other than in a few small areas, above-normal land temperatures are “expected to dominate everywhere” for February-April.
“The highest probabilities of above-normal temperatures occur in western, central and eastern Asia and over the southern half of North America,” the WMO said.
“Above-normal temperatures are also likely over much of the northern high latitudes (except over northwestern North America), southern, central and eastern parts of South America, and equatorial and northern regions of Africa.
“Below-normal temperatures are more likely for northern South America.”
Meanwhile the precipitation outlook for February to April is consistent with typical La Nina effects on regional climates, said the WMO.
“These include increased chances of unusually wet conditions over much of southeast Asia, Australia and northern South America and islands in Melanesia. Southern Africa may also see above-normal rainfall,” the WMO said.
“Below-normal precipitation is likely over much of western and central Asia… as well as parts of the Greater Horn of Africa, parts of Central Africa, sub-tropical latitudes of North America, islands in Polynesia and some parts of southeastern South America.”
The last La Nina, which was brief and relatively weak, began developing in November 2017 and ended in April 2018.
The world is falling short of promises made under the Paris climate deal to help the most vulnerable nations deal with the increasingly devastating impacts of climate change, according to the United Nations.
Adaptation — reducing the fallout among communities and increasing their capacity to deal with climate-related disasters such as floods and drought — is a pillar of the landmark 2015 accord, which aims to chart a path away from catastrophic warming.
The deal requires signatories to implement adaptation measures through national planning, but also through funding to at-risk countries.
The UN Environment Programme Adaptation Gap report found that the current finance levels of around $30 billion annually for adaptation fell far short of the annual cost in developing nations of $70 billion.
It said the true cost of adapting to climate impacts in these nations could be as high as $300 billion every year by the end of the decade and $500 billion by mid-century.
“The hard truth is that climate change is upon us,” said Inger Andersen, UNEP executive director.
“Its impacts will intensify and hit vulnerable countries and communities the hardest — even if we meet the Paris Agreement goals of holding global warming this century to well below 2C.”
UNEP called for a drastic scale-up of public and private finance for adaptation, as well as increased investment in nature-based solutions such as protecting and sustainably restoring ecosystems.
– Limit losses –
With just over 1C of warming since the start of the industrial era, Earth is already experiencing more intense and frequent extreme weather such as droughts and flooding, as well as storms supercharged by rising seas.
Much of the devastation wrought by climate-linked disasters falls on developing nations, and despite promises to help out financially, richer countries still aren’t hitting their adaptation funding targets.
UNEP said funding for adaptation currently represented just five percent of all climate finance.
With the cost of natural disasters set to skyrocket this century, hard-hit nations are finding it difficult to secure the finance to rebuild after extreme events.
Mozambique, which was battered by twin cyclones in early 2019, said that one year since the disasters it had received less than a quarter of the estimated $3 billion it needed to recover.
The UN report found that cutting greenhouse gas emissions will provide a long-term economic benefit by reducing the costs associated with climate change.
Achieving the 2C Paris Agreement temperature rise limit could curb losses in annual growth to 1.6 percent, compared with 2.2 percent for 3C of warming — the current trajectory if nations’ current Paris pledges are upheld.
Under the deal’s “ratchet” mechanism, countries are supposed to file new emissions reduction plans — known as nationally determined contributions, or NDCs — every five years.
The deadline for the first round of new NDC submissions was December 31, 2020. However just 71 countries representing under a third of global emissions have done so.
UNEP says global emissions must fall 7.6 percent annually this decade to keep the more ambitious Paris temperature target of 1.5C in play.
For a few moments in late April of 2020, oil — normally the lifeblood of the world economy — became more expensive to store than to pay someone to take it away.
Crude oil’s wildly fluctuating futures prices reflected the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, with record falls in greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel demand making 2020 an unexpectedly good year for the climate.
The United Nations and the Global Carbon Project both said this month that planet-warming carbon pollution was set to fall seven percent this year, the largest single-year drop in history.
As pressure mounts on governments to match action to their promises to slash emissions, such a historic drop is welcome even if it only came about due to the pandemic.
It puts 2020 roughly in line with what the UN says is needed to keep the Paris climate deal goal of limiting warming to 1.5C within reach.
But with distribution of several Covid-19 vaccines ramping up in 2021, enabling an anticipated global economic rebound, will 2020 be the start of an annual downward emissions trend, or just a momentary blip?
“I am afraid that if governments do not take major new policies we may well see that the decline we are experiencing in emissions this year will rebound,” Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, told AFP.
“If governments do not put clean energy policies in their economic recovery packages we will go back to where we were before the pandemic.”
Birol pointed to China, the world’s largest polluter, which he said was an “important test run” for how other nations power their Covid-19 recovery.
“We all know China was the first country to have the coronavirus, the first where there was a lockdown and where the economy declined,” he said.
“But China is also the first country where the economy rebounded and as of today Chinese emissions are higher than levels before the crisis.”
The UN in its annual Emissions Gap report said last week that 2020’s dip in emissions would have only a “negligible impact” on long-term warming without a profound shift towards green energy.
It said emissions hit a record high in 2019 of 59.1 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent — a whopping 2.6 percent higher than the year before.
Yet the countries that pollute the most have prioritised sectors heavily reliant on fossil fuels in their stimulus packages.
In October, a study by manufacturer Wartsila and Energy Policy Tracker found that G20 nations had earmarked $145 billion for clean energy solutions as part of their recovery funding.
This compared with $216 billion that had been pledged for fossil energy, the analysis showed.
– ‘Cyclical shock’ –
The UN said this month that production of oil, gas and coal needed to fall 6 percent annually through 2030 to stay on a 1.5-C course.
Its Production Gap assessment showed however that countries plan to increase fossil fuel production 2 percent per year this decade.
This is despite record low costs for renewable energy technology such as solar and wind.
Kingsmill Bond, energy strategist at the market watchdog Carbon Tracker, said he was confident that 2019 would turn out to have been the peak in emissions, as industry wakes up to the new economics of power.
He said the “cyclical shock” of Covid-19 had brought forward a downwards trend in carbon pollution which was set to happen anyway, pandemic or not.
“Global coal demand peaked in 2013. Fossil fuels going into electricity peaked in 2018, even before the crisis. It’s been happening all the while,” Bond told AFP.
He said renewables could now accommodate all global energy demand growth — roughly 6 exajoules per year — meaning that fossil fuel demand should peak “by definition”.
To square the circle between the needed six-percent annual cut in fossil production and countries’ two-percent growth plans, Bond pointed to a fundamental economic principle: supply and demand.
“The supply is continuing to churn because the incumbents haven’t realised what’s going on — there’s just not going to be demand for it,” he said.
“Imagine you’re the Canadian government. You can subsidise production of oil as much as you like, but if the Chinese don’t buy it, tough.”
– Filling the bathtub –
Subsidies — in the form of financial support, tax breaks and underwriting — remain a significant impediment to greening the economy.
IEA chief Birol said the G20 currently spends a total of over $300 billion in “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies.
“Fossil fuels today enjoy a significant amount of subsidies from governments, mainly in emerging economies, which creates unfair competition for clean energy sources, distorts the markets and leads to inefficient use of energy,” he said.
As well as an unprecedented drop in emissions, 2020 saw numerous large emitters — including China and Japan — commit to achieving carbon neutrality for the first time.
Climate Action Tracker has calculated that countries’ current net-zero plans, if enacted, could limit warming to 2.1C — not Paris-compliant, but better than the current course of more than 3C of heating by 2100.
Corinne Le Quere, a climatologist and co-chair of the Global Carbon Project, said she expected emissions to rebound in 2021 and to plateau in the years to follow.
She said 2019 could be the peak-emissions year “in an optimistic scenario, but not in the most realistic scenario”.
“We will either see a plateau or growth in emissions for some years before green investments” begin to pay off, said Le Quere.
And although emissions tumbled in 2020, the climate responds to greenhouse gas levels already in the atmosphere.
The Global Monitoring Laboratory at the Mauna Loa Observatory on December 8th measured CO2 concentrations at 412.87 parts per million — 0.36 percent higher than the same day last year.
“It’s like water in a bathtub,” said Le Quere.
“For the last 100 years we have had the tap open and the water running, increasing the volume of CO2 in the atmosphere.
“In 2020, we turned the tap down a little, but the water level continues to rise.”
Britain on Wednesday insisted its close partnership with the United States was in safe hands whoever comes out on top of the tumultuous presidential election while noting disaccord over the Paris climate pact.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a populist ally of President Donald Trump, stayed up into the night to follow the results coming in, according to a Downing Street spokesman.
But Johnson refused to be drawn in parliament when grilled about the Republican’s premature claim of victory and his intention to ask the Supreme Court to halt the vote counting.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps came closer to breaching UK neutrality over the election, in discussing Britain’s support for action on climate change as it prepares to host a major UN summit next year.
“One can imagine that one of those candidates would be more enthusiastic (on climate policy) as president than the other,” he told ITV News, referring to Democrat Joe Biden.
Former prime minister Theresa May noted that the election dispute coincided with Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the Paris climate accord taking effect on Wednesday.
“We will soon know who will be the next US president. But, sadly, today also marks the US leaving the Paris accord — the world’s foremost attempt to build consensus on climate change,” she tweeted.
“Whoever is elected has an immense responsibility to help tackle our planet’s greatest challenge.”
Britain is due next year to convene the UN’s COP 26 climate summit, and Johnson’s spokesman said the government was looking forward to a “successful hosting” of the multinational meeting, which has been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Obviously we’ve made clear to the US administration throughout this process that we remain firm supporters of the Paris Agreement,” the spokesman told reporters.
He added that the transatlantic relationship would “go from strength to strength whichever candidate wins the election”.
“Across trade, security, intelligence, defence, innovation and culture, few countries do more together.”
For his part, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said: “I’m not worried about the relationship.”
“The contours of the opportunities and the risks always shift a little bit, but that needs to be set against the context of this bedrock and this wider set of interests which are so strong,” he told Sky News.
Raab also downplayed concerns expressed by Biden over the UK’s plans for Northern Ireland after its Brexit divorce from the European Union.
Former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on Thursday said the coronavirus crisis was a “tremendous opportunity” to rebuild devastated economies with clean energy.
Speaking virtually at a climate summit that his non-profit organisation holds annually in Austria, the Hollywood star said the pandemic, which has killed almost a million people and caused massive economic downturns worldwide, was “a window of opportunity to act right now”.
“Forward-looking decisions are needed right now, right now as trillions of dollars and trillions of euros are being poured into rebuilding economies and infrastructure in the wake of the coronavirus,” he said on screen, speaking from a podium surrounded by plants.
“These funds are so massive they are capable of remaking societies. We have a tremendous opportunity here.”
Schwarzenegger said money should be invested into building “a clean energy economy”, providing “sustainable jobs” and upgrading buildings to make them more energy efficient.
Schwarzenegger had intended to travel to his birth country Austria for the summit but cancelled his trip following the advice of doctors — cheering on participants instead from an office with a poster of himself in younger days as a body-builder in the background.
Among other speakers at the Austrian World Summit, which was launched four years ago, were Austrian, Slovakian and Croatian leaders, as well as European Commission vice president Frans Timmermans and other international public figures.
EU chief Ursula von der Leyen vowed Wednesday in her first annual State of the European Union address that Europe would lead the global search for a coronavirus vaccine while rebuilding its shattered economy with a green recovery plan.