At the Katowice Climate Change Conference, December 2018, member countries agreed the ‘rulebook’ for implementing the 2015 Paris Agreement into practice – in particular how emissions would be measured and progress in reducing emissions tracked. However, the Conference did not tackle the question of how countries would increase their targets to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. By 2020, countries must show how they have met the targets that they set back in 2008.
Carbon emissions appear to be on the increase – largely due to increased use of coal, oil and natural gas. Atmospheric CO2 levels reached 405.5 ppm in 2017 compared with pre-industrial levels of 280 ppm. A number of countries at the Katowice Conference failed to support the proposals completely – these include the USA, Russia, Australia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait – coal-, oil- and natural gas- producers.
Agriculture, too, has a major impact. The major culprits are meat and dairy producers. These account for 18% of calories and 37% of protein, but account for over 80% of farmland and 60% of agricultural greenhouse gases. Without meat and dairy production, global farmland could be reduced by over 75% (Poore and Nemecek, 2018). They also found that freshwater aquaculture was also damaging – fish excreta and uneaten food at the bottom of fish cages lead to anaerobic conditions and produce methane.
In a report called Hothouse Earth Hans Joachim Schellnhuber suggested that the term ‘global heating;’ should be used instead of global warming. He suggested that the rise in global temperature has moved the Earth out of the ‘comfort zone’ and now poses a threat to humanity. Moreover, the UK Met Office announced that the 2018 heatwave was thirty times more likely due to human climate change. It also announced that the Earth is looking at warming of between 2.5°C and 4.5°C, a situation which could cause the Earth to release more carbon rather than to absorb it.
There is a risk that the Earth is entering a new climate phase – hothouse Earth – in which the climate will stabilize at a much higher temperature than scientists desire. Like the UK Met Office they suggest that it could be as much as 4–5°C higher than pre-industrial levels and warn that sea levels could be some 10–60m higher than today. This would be much greater than anything over the last 1.2 million years (the Holocene).
To avoid hothouse Earth, there has to be a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and increased (or new) carbon sinks such, whether natural or man-made, such as improved forest-, agricultural- and soil-management, conservation of biodiversity, and carbon capture and storage. To achieve a ‘stable’ climate, there will need to be effective governance at a global level, with much greater emphasis on global planetary concerns in trade, economic growth and technological development – rather than the nationalistic vales and protectionism that has characterised much of the world over the last decade. A different viewpoint is held by Poore and Nemecek (2018) who state that the biggest single way to reduce personal environmental impact is to avoid meat and dairy products.
Steffen, W., et al., 2018, Trajectories of the Earth
System in the Anthropocene, www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1810141115
Poore, J., and Nemecek, T., 2018, Reducing food’s environmental impact through producers and consumers, Science, 360 (6392) 987-992
warming should be called global heating, says key scientist