The Covid-19 crisis will have been only a parenthesis for the climate, global emissions of CO2, the main greenhouse gas, having since picked up more vigorously, warns a study. As a result, there is less time left to counter global warming.
The Covid-19 pandemic had shut down a good part of the world and its economy which is very dependent on fossil fuels, causing a spectacular drop of 5.4% in total emissions in 2020. But in 2021, they are expected to rebound from 4.9% to come within 1% of the absolute record of 2019, according to this study by the Global carbon project, published Thursday.
This group of international scientists studies global carbon “budgets”, or the amount of CO2 that can be emitted for a given result. Indeed, despite the promises of post-Covid-19 “green” recovery plans, this recovery is mainly done with fossil fuels.
Emissions due to coal should thus exceed their level of 2019, that is to say before the Covid-19 crisis, although below their absolute record of 2014, and those due to gas reach their all-time high.
While oil emissions, projected to increase by 4.4% for 2021, do not catch up to their 2019 level, the authors stress that the transport sector has not yet recovered to pre-crisis levels and that the rebound is therefore likely to accelerate.
As a result, the remaining “carbon budgets” so as not to exceed the objectives of the Paris Agreement, i.e. a warming compared to the pre-industrial era clearly below + 2 ° C, and if possible at + 1.5 ° C , are decreasing dangerously, while the level currently reached is evaluated between + 1.1 ° and + 1.2 °.
At the rate of 2021, to have a 50% chance of holding + 1.5 ° C, there are eight years of emissions remaining, 20 years to limit warming to + 1.7 ° C and 32 years to + 2 ° C. If we hope to increase the chances to 66%, the duration drops further: 8 years for 1.5 ° C, 16 years at + 1.7 ° C and 27 years at + 2 ° C.
“A call to reality”
Time is therefore running out, as shown by the resurgence of climatic disasters of all kinds – floods, droughts, mega-fires – with their procession of victims, populations displaced or threatened with famine.
The study constitutes a “reminder to the reality of what is happening in the world while we discuss in Glasgow how to fight climate change”, underlines for AFP the climatologist Corinne Le Quéré, one of the authors.
The fall linked to Covid-19 “was never the result of a structural change. Put your car [temporairement] in the garage or changing to an electric car, it’s not the same thing ”.
And in the absence of these changes, “the rebound was even stronger than I thought,” says Glen Peters of the International Center for Climate Research, another author of the study.
As it stands, “we could expect to see emissions grow again,” he told AFP, while before the pandemic, scientists hoped 2019 could mark a peak in emissions.
Further increases expected
The geographic distribution of emissions for 2021 illustrates these fears. China, the world’s leading emitter since 2007 with around a quarter of emissions, will see its share jump to 31% in 2021.
This share could have been pushed up, because the country emerged from the crisis due to Covid-19 before the others. Chinese emissions had indeed grown by + 1.4% in 2020, while those of the United States, the world’s second-largest emitter, fell by 10.6%, those of the European Union, the third-largest emitter, by 10.9%. and India, fourth, 7.3%.
The 2021 projections call for increases of 4%, 7.6%, 7.6% and 12.6% respectively. The study’s authors call for “immediate action and global coherence in the global response to climate change”.
With a ray of hope: over the decade 2010/19, they identified 23 countries, representing around a quarter of global CO2 emissions, where emissions have fallen substantially, while the economy has been growing. A good half of these are highly developed countries, which therefore have the means and the regulations to tackle the problem.