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Will We Do Enough to Stop Climate Change?

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MALIBU, CA – NOVEMBER 09: The Woolsey Fire approaches homes on November 9, 2018 in Malibu, California. About 75,000 homes have been evacuated in Los Angeles and Ventura counties due to two fires in the region. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

Probably not. We are only just starting to take it seriously as a policy issue and it’s just way too slow and way too limited.

Yet some rich countries saw emissions climb during the years after the 2015 Paris agreement was signed, including Australia and Canada. The United States, the world’s No. 2 source of emissions and largest emitter historically, and the European Union saw reductions occur at a much slower rate than necessary. The U.S. saw emissions drop 0.7% from 2016 to 2019 compared to the period from 2011 to 2015. The EU’s pollution fell 0.9% during that same period.

The analysis, which used country data from the United Nations and the Global Carbon Project, did not account for increases in other heat-trapping gases, such as methane. Methane is a key ingredient in the natural gas that countries like the U.S. are producing at a rapid clip and is more potent than CO2 over a shorter period of time in the atmosphere.

The research comes as the world gears up for a virtual climate summit in the U.S. next month, part of the new Biden administration’s bid to reclaim its country’s mantle of leadership following former President Donald Trump’s widely criticized exit from global negotiations over emissions. It also comes ahead of November’s next international climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, where countries are set to unveil new pledges to cut emissions.

There are few hopeful signs on the horizon. This week, a U.N. analysis of countries’ carbon-cutting goals ahead of the Glasgow conference found that the combined effort would put the world on a path to slash emissions just 1% by 2030 compared to 2010 levels. Scientists say emissions need to fall by roughly 50% during that period to keep warming from exceeding 2 degrees Celsius.

Likewise, the International Energy Agency this week said emissions from energy use fell 5.8% globally last year amid the pandemic, but warned that “CO2 emissions will increase significantly this year.”

“What happens to energy demand and emissions in 2021 and beyond will depend on how much emphasis governments put on clean energy transitions in their efforts to boost their economies in the coming months,” the Paris-based nonprofit said in its latest report. “Avoiding a rebound in emissions requires rapid structural changes in how we use and produce energy.”

We just need more political pressure. And then more. And then even more. It’s the only way forward. Maybe we don’t get there. But at least we have to try.

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