In a recent article from the Open Access journal Nature Communications, authors Yann Robiou du Pont & Malte Meinshausen describe the global warming outcomes from the emission pledges made by most of the world at COP21, the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris in 2015. They have created models that detail what type of world we would be living in if the rest of the world followed their commitment given at this conference to greenhouse gas emission reductions.
Many countries have adopted emissions targets that would put the world on track for a ‘catastrophic’ level of 5 degrees warming by 2100. These countries include some GHG heavy hitters such as China, Canada, Russia, about half of the OPEC cartel, Thailand, Malaysia, South Korea, Vietnam, Argentina, South Africa and New Zealand. Many other countries aren’t far behind.
How much has your government committed to at the Paris Agreement and what will they be doing now at the biggest climate change conference since 2015, the COP24 conference happening right now in Katowice, Poland? See the answer to the first question in the map below.
What is concerning is that many countries have made emissions cut commitments but don’t have an active plan of how to achieve them. This is reflected in the Dutch climate activist group Urgenda, which recently won its historic litigation case against the government of the Netherlands for getting them to actually make a national budget that reflects its commitment to the future generations made in Paris three years ago.
Hurrah! So we’ve got one country that will revise its actions to meet its emissions commitment… which will lead the world (if others followed their commitment) to 2.9°C of warming according the French authors above.
The Dutch are “leading” on another front, with petroleum giant Royal Dutch Shell tying up executive pay with carbon emissions targets. The CEO was however strongly against this proposal despite pressure from shareholders to (begin to) take responsibility for the harm it causes the planet. The targets are also not yet set. But if they are connected to executive salary, they should at least be realistic, unlike many of the Paris commitments!
In case you missed it, the legendary naturalist David Attenborough has been at the COP24 conference in Katowice this week, pleading with world leaders to act or risk the collapse of civilisation.
In Norway, the government is continuing to release licences for oil exploration like there is no tomorrow. This is rather unlike coal, which is quickly becoming the new definition of stranded asset after asbestos (since there are so many better and cheaper energy alternatives). Indeed Norway, despite in some circles being held up as model country in terms of climate adaption and mitigation is seen by increasing numbers of academics as letting down the world, given its privileged economic position.
Did you know that Norway produces 50L of crude oil per person per day? I found this out today based on per capita production figures on Wikipedia. The oil and gas sector is responsible for over 90% of all the energy produced in Norway (hydropower represents 142 TWh of a total of 2264 TWh or just over 6% of the total. Source: Leiv Nordstrand, Aftenposten Innsikt).
BUT, and very importantly, a stop in the release of new licences for oil exploration will result in an 80% reduction in oil production volumes between now and 2040 (according to Exxon’s figure published in the Financial Times below). This is simply due to existing reservoirs emptying and coming to the end of their productive life. So stopping oil exploration today (and especially in sensitive areas like Lofoten in Norway), will result in big cuts in oil-related carbon emissions in the future (and hopefully provide a stimulant to the creation of low emissions alternatives).
So, where are we headed? There are thankfully some glimmers of hope in amongst the gloom.
Mærsk, the world’s largest container shipping company, has committed to cut net carbon emissions to zero by 2050 (not some percentage of a number that we can argue about in years to come). This is pretty significant seeing as 1 in every 5 shipping containers is moved by this company. Søren Toft, the Danish company’s COO, said: “We will have to abandon fossil fuels… It’s an existential exercise, where we as a company need to set ourselves apart.”
Spain is not exactly the world’s largest producer of petroleum resources, however the government has this week revealed that it will release no more new licences for oil and gas exploration in Spanish waters and it will phase out production completely by 2040. I have been saying for a few years that I cannot imagine a day when oil is being left in the ground. But it seems as though there are early indications that this day is just around the corner (until they discover a massive reservoir and reverse their policies perhaps… let’s hope not though). This good news was part of a 2050 decarbonisation plan the Spanish government revealed in Katowice this week in which all electricity will be renewable and emissions cut to 90% of today’s levels.
I hope to be able to see more of these positive examples in the years to come and a change in the colour of the map at the start of this article.