The annual cuts of 0.16 billion tonnes of CO2 are only 10% of the 1-2 billion tonnes of CO2 cuts that are needed globally every year to fight climate change| Photo: Swati Joshi

CO2 reduction rate needs to increase 10-fold to meet Paris goals: Study

Even though 64 countries cut their fossil CO2 emissions during 2016-2019, some countries continue to record a rise

While countries are making efforts to cut carbon dioxide emission since the commencement of the Paris Agreement this year, the actions are not “large-scale enough” yet and emissions are still increasing in many countries, according to a new study. The study is important because it is the first global stocktake by researchers to examine the progress in reducing fossil CO2 emissions since the Paris Agreement.

The study, titled ‘Fossil CO2 emissions in the post-COVID era’, was conducted by researchers from the University of East Anglia (UEA), Stanford University and the Global Carbon Project. 

Fossil CO2 emissions in 5 years post the Paris Agreement

The study revealed that 64 countries cut their CO2 emissions during 2016-19, but the rate of reduction needs to increase ten-fold to meet the Paris Agreement.

It said that the annual cuts of 0.16 billion tonnes of CO2 are only 10% of the 1-2 billion tonnes of CO2 cuts that are needed globally every year to fight climate change. 

Of the 36 high-income countries, 25 saw their emissions decrease during 2016-19 compared to 2011-15. Emissions decreased even when accounting for the carbon footprint of imported goods produced in other countries.

According to the study, 99 upper-middle economies were responsible for 51% of global emissions in 2019, with China alone contributing 28% of the global total. 

Change in fossil CO2 emissions in the five years since the adoption of Paris Agreement| Photo: Study

Of these 99 countries, 30 have shown a decline in the emissions during 2016-19 compared to 2011-15, suggesting that efforts are in motion by countries to cut emissions, the study said.

The credit for curbing emissions goes to the growing number of climate change laws and policies in place in the past five years pre-COVID-19. There are now more than 2,000 climate laws and policies worldwide, the study said.

In the lower-middle and low-economy group of 79 countries, the emissions originating are much lower than in the other two groups. The study pointed out that CO2 emissions in this group have grown by 0.18 million tonnes on average each year, with no significant slowdown at the group level.

2020 is a ‘pause button’ that cannot realistically continue

Global CO2 emissions| Photo: Study

According to the study, during the COVID-19 lockdown, global emissions of CO2 decreased by 2.6 million tonnes. The largest cause of the decrease was a decline in transport emissions, it said.

It pointed out that in most countries, emissions decreased by an average of 27% at the peak of the confinement. Even by the end of 2020, lockdowns implemented by governments in various countries led to a decrease in daily emissions by 7% below 2019 levels. 

The researchers said that 2020 is a ‘pause button’ that could not continue practically while the world is totally dependent on fossil fuels and unsustainable policies.

The road ahead

The study noted that while measures taken to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic would cut emissions by about 7% in 2020, they would not, on their own, be responsible for causing a lasting decrease in emissions. These temporary measures have little influence on the fossil fuel-based infrastructure that sustains the world economy.

Researchers pointed out that a full bounce-back in 2021 to the previous CO2 emissions level appears unlikely. They suggested that unless COVID-19 recovery directs investments towards green infrastructure, emissions would likely start rocketing again within a few years.

The study revealed that in most countries, investment post-COVID is majorly dominated by fossil fuels in contradiction with climate commitments. Only a few countries — the European Union, Denmark, France, the United Kingdom, Germany and Switzerland — have so far implemented substantial green stimulus packages with limited investments in fossil-based activities.

“Commitments alone aren’t enough. Countries need to align post-COVID incentives with climate targets this decade, based on sound science and credible implementation plans,” said Professor Rob Jackson of Stanford University and a co-author of the study, in a statement during the release.

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