Greenhouse gas* concentrations in the atmosphere reached record levels last year and the world is “way off track” in capping rising temperatures, the United Nations has announced ahead of the COP26 climate summit.
The UN’s blunt report comes as Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed Tuesday the government would commit to net zero emissions by 2050, describing the approach to the goal as “the Australian way”.
Australia is on track to achieve a 30 to 35 per cent emissions reduction by 2030, but will not formally update the interim target on the path to net zero by 2050.
The electricity sector is expected to achieve the largest emissions reductions – almost entirely net zero – followed by transport, with heavy industries, mining and agriculture largely expected to only reduce emissions by less than half.
As part of the government’s plan, technology costs will be driven down for companies involved in developing clean hydrogen, solar, energy storage, low emissions steel and aluminium, carbon capture and storage, and soil carbon, as well as emerging technologies.
Mr Morrison said there would be no taxes or legislated targets and mechanisms.
He said he would not raise electricity costs and would not put industries, regions or jobs “at risk”.
Mr Morrison is due to attend COP26, the UN Climate Change Conference, being held in Glasgow, Scotland, from October 31 to November 12.
The UN’s World Meteorological* Organisation (WMO) said that continued rising greenhouse gas emissions would result in more extreme weather and wide-ranging impacts on the environment, the economy and humanity.
The WMO said the economic slowdown caused by the Covid-19 pandemic triggered a temporary decline in new emissions, but had no discernible* impact on the atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases and their growth rates.
The organisation’s Greenhouse Gas Bulletin said the annual rate of increase last year was above the yearly average between 2011 and 2020 – and the trend continued in 2021.
The WMO said that as long as emissions continued, global temperatures would continue to rise.
And given the long life of carbon dioxide* (CO2), the temperature levels already observed would remain for several decades even if emissions were rapidly reduced to net zero.
“The Greenhouse Gas Bulletin contains a stark*, scientific message for climate change negotiators at COP26,” said WMO chief Professor Petteri Taalas.
“At the current rate of increase in greenhouse gas concentrations, we will see a temperature increase by the end of this century far in excess of the Paris Agreement targets of 1.5 to 2C above pre-industrial levels.
“We are way off track.”
The WMO said that with continued rising greenhouse gas emissions, alongside rising temperatures, the planet could expect more extreme weather.
“We need to revisit our industrial, energy and transport systems and whole way of life. The needed changes are economically affordable and technically possible. There is no time to lose,” Professor Taalas said.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the COP26 host, said he was “very worried” that the 12-day climate talks could go awry*.
“I’m very worried because it might go wrong … it’s touch and go,” he said. “It’s very, very far from clear that we’ll get the progress that we need.”
But Mr Johnson said he remained hopeful a deal could be done to reduce carbon emissions* and limit future temperature rises.
The WMO also stressed that the southeast part of the Amazon rainforest had now become a source of carbon emissions due to deforestation*.
THE GREENHOUSE GAS METER
- The three major greenhouses gases are CO2, methane and nitrous oxide
- CO2 is the most important, accounting for around 66 per cent of the warming effect on the climate
- CO2 concentrations reached 413.2 parts per million (ppm) in 2020, up 2.5 ppm, and were at 149 per cent of the pre-industrial level in 1750, the WMO said
- Methane averages reached a new high of 1889 parts per billion in 2020, up 11 ppb on the year before, and were at 262 per cent of the pre-industrial benchmark
- Nitrous oxide averages reached 333.2 ppb, up 1.2 ppb, and were now at 123 per cent of 1750 levels
Additional reporting by Clare Armstrong, The Daily Telegraph
- greenhouse gas: gases in Earth’s atmosphere that trap heat from the sun.
- awry: wrong, amiss, poorly
- emissions: the production and discharge of something
- meteorological: relating to the science of the atmosphere
- discernible: visible, detectable, observable
- stark: severe, sharp, unadorned
- carbon dioxide: a colourless gas having a faint sharp odour and a sour taste
- deforestation: action of clearing a wide area of trees
- methane: a gas with no smell or colour and the main constituent of natural gas.
- nitrous oxide: a gas with a faint sweet smell that is sometimes used medically for pain relief
- Who is the British Prime Minister and host of the coming COP26 climate summit in Glasgow?
- What is the Paris Agreement target for rising temperatures?
- What did the WMO’s Greenhouse Gas Bulletin find about the average rate of increase in emissions over 2020/2021?
- What are the three major greenhouse gases?
- What is the worrying new development in the Amazon rainforest?
LISTEN TO THIS STORY
1. Letter to the Prime Minister
As a member of the future generation of our world, you have the right to a say in how the leaders of our country and our world are managing the environment. So far it seems that humans in general haven’t done a great job and the greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere are causing global warming.
Write a letter to our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, who is meant to attend this very important climate conference in Scotland next week. Outline what you would like to see Australia, and other countries, do to reduce our environmental impact.
Use emotive language to plead and implore him, to represent the future generation in the best way possible, to ensure there is a positive future for the state of planet Earth as you grow up and have children of your own.
Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Critical and Creative Thinking
“We need to revisit our industrial, energy and transport systems and whole way of life. The needed changes are economically affordable and technically possible. There is no time to lose.”
This is a quote from the chief of the World Meteorological Organisation. Brainstorm a list of changes to the industrial, energy and transport systems that may help us reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.
If these changes are affordable and possible, why are the world leaders not changing them?
Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Design and Technologies; Critical and Creative Thinking
I Spy Nouns
Nouns are places, names (of people and objects), and time (months or days of the week).
How many nouns can you find in the article?
Can you sort them into places, names and time?
Pick three nouns and add an adjective (describing word) to the nouns.