Climate projections again point to dangerous 2.7 °C rise by 2100

10th November 2022 By: Bloomberg

Climate projections again point to dangerous 2.7 °C rise by 2100

Projections for global temperature increase by 2100 above preindustrial levels based on targets and announcements from COP27.
Photo by: Bloomberg/Climate Action Tracker

The research partnership Climate Action Tracker (CAT) on Thursday released its latest projections of how greenhouse gas emissions may dangerously raise the global average temperature. The result is similar to last year’s – a troubling 2.7 °C increase above preindustrial levels if policies don’t improve – but a different point of comparison adds a new dimension to the finding.

The key numbers in the updated projections:

* If current policies remain in place, the world will heat up by an average of 2.7 °C by 2100. That’s very, very deep into the danger zone.
* If 2030 targets are implemented, that figure drops to 2.4 °C – the same as CAT’s estimate last year.
* If countries pursue their stated, more aggressive carbon-cutting targets, it falls to 2 °C, which still fails the Paris agreement test of “well below” that very mark.
* In an optimistic scenario, where everything that can possibly go right goes right, warming is limited to 1.8 °C. But that’s a figure that Inger Andersen, UN Environment Program executive director, recently described as “not currently credible.”

The estimates are in line with a UN report released last month projecting a 2.5C end-of-century average temperature rise if countries meet only their current commitments.

In a report detailing the projections, CAT researchers also document how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues to accelerate a global rush for gas. There is more gas infrastructure proposed, approved or under construction than can likely exist without the world exceeding the Paris Agreement warming limit of 1.5 °C. Existing gas infrastructure alone pushes the world off the International Energy Agency’s “net-zero emissions” pathway by 2030. As it stands, gas use by 2030 needs to be at least 30% below 2021 levels.

“If this were only about replacing the Russian gas, we are totally overdoing it,” said Niklas Höhne, a climate policy scientist at Germany’s New Climate Institute who contributes to CAT. “And that is not good news.”

The report lays down a stark dilemma: Either the gas building boom will put lower levels of global heating out of reach, or countries are rushing to construct assets that they will just as soon abandon.

Some efforts by industry to curb methane emissions may be too little, too late from the standpoint of carbon accounting, according to the report. Efforts to reduce “fugitive emissions,” or infrastructure leaks, are common in many national plans, “but this misses the real challenge: to move beyond coal, oil and gas by phasing out production,” the CAT authors write. “Just as there is no such thing as ‘clean coal,’ there is also no ‘clean oil’ nor ‘clean gas.’”

The focus on gas and its potential to thwart climate goals puts a grimmer focus on the situation than the International Energy Agency’s recent World Energy Outlook, which cited Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a turning point in the race toward clean energy “not just for the time being, but for decades to come,” according to IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol.

A clear move away from gas has taken hold in places as renewable energy continues to expand, Höhne said. “These are two competing trends,” he said. “And for us, we would say it’s a bit too early to say which one will win.”

The CAT numbers are further sharpened by the hard reality that 1.2 °C of warming – the current level – is already bringing worse impacts than expected, he said.

Yet viewed from another perspective, the 2022 numbers are less grim: They are a vast improvement over the best case scenario at COP15 in Copenhagen, where Climate Action Tracker released its first projections.

The year 2009 was a long-distance sprint for diplomats, scientists, activists and business leaders expecting that the annual UN talks would finally pay off in an agreement. Barack Obama, then in the first year of his presidency, was so eager for a deal that he flew to Copenhagen for the final, disastrous days. Small-island nations and like-minded developing countries went to Denmark pushing an aggressive temperature goal – 1.5 °C above the preindustrial average – that might give them a fighting chance of survival.

That didn’t happen until six years later, in Paris. But near the close of the COP15 talks a consortium of researchers calling themselves Climate Action Tracker released a briefing paper with some sobering news. The most aggressive targets that developed countries were then offering would leave the world at roughly 3.2 °C of warming by century’s end. The less ambitious goals might bring about 3.5C of warming – and utter catastrophe.

From the standpoint of the 2009 Copenhagen COP, then, the fourteenth year of CAT is rather incredible.

“It’s 1.5 °C degrees better than in 2009. That’s, I think, remarkable,” said Höhne, who was the lead author of the 2009 CAT analysis. “And it’s something that motivates me to keep doing this, because you have so much bad news. This is the good news.”

An individual UN climate conference might not seem to make much of a difference, he said. “But if you look at the system as a whole – the conferences since 2009 until now – they have definitely achieved something. Now we are in a different world.”