Many people have heard of the message that “we have 11 years to stop global warming” before society has dug too big of a hole for us to climb out of. But how do we accomplish that? One group of nations is providing us with some ideas that are working already.
A recent study published in Nature found that 18 developed countries including a portion of Europe, United Kingdom and the USA, have been working their way to reach net zero emissions of greenhouse gases and that the rates decreased significantly over the ten year span from 2005-2015.
The report states that fossil fuel emissions increased an average of 2.2% per year over that time period. Meanwhile, these 18 countries obtained an overall decrease of 2.4% annually over this term, That decrease is particularly significant considering that these countries together account for 28% of the world’s CO2 emissions.
Each of the countries had their own way of working towards the decrease. However, three factors were found which all the countries had in common. All of the countries increased their use of renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, to generate electricity. The group of nations had also been using less energy than others. Meaning that people in their homes have either been doing things like leaving their lights on for a shorter time or taking quicker showers and/or hanging up clothes outside to dry instead of using a dryer. The last thing is that all these countries already had government policies in place, revolving around climate and energy, so they are all accustomed to using less power.
Due to the rapid industrialization of China in the early 2000s, global CO2 emissions began to increase even faster. Forbes reports that in 2017, China released a total of 9.2 billion tons of CO2, which is 28% of the planet’s 33.4 billion tons. However, since the USA and Europe have had their rates declining for the past 10 years, they helped to slow down the global rate of increase of CO2 emissions during this period.
The emissions in many European countries and the USA have decreased significantly, predominantly because they switched from burning coal to oil, gas, and nuclear power instead. The United States has had a massive increase in generating renewable wind energy by nearly double, from 2008-2018. Although the generation of renewable solar energy did not begin to make a noticeable difference since around 2011, it is slowly showing more positive effects over time.
Some of the European nations set forward targets for the year 2020, to increase their share of renewable energy. A quick overview and graph provided by Europa.eu displays the progress amongst 28 European countries, and the targets for each. Overall they had a steady increase starting from 8.5% to 17.0% between the years of 2004-2016. The continent’s goal of 20% by 2020 is looking very possible. Sweden reached the highest in share of renewable energy, of 53.8% of energy consumption, with Finland approaching nearly 40.0% placing right behind. Out of the eleven countries that already reached their individual 2020 goal, eight of them took part in the Nature Climate Change study.
The 2018 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that if we want to have a chance at limiting the temperature increase to only 1.5 degrees Celsius by the middle of this century, we have to reduce emissions to net zero. This is one of the goals set in place by the Paris Agreement. We are currently approaching a 3-4 degree increase. The effects on our planet from even a 1.5 or 2 degree Celsius increase would be dramatic. Heatwaves could last for a month and a half and the sea level could increase by 40 to 50 cm. National Geographic says that rising sea levels could put fish in danger and severely damage bird and plant habitats. It also results in erosion with damaging consequences like wetland flooding, and aquifer and agricultural soil contamination with salt. We need to find a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions down to 45% of the levels recorded in 2010 within the next 11 years in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees.
But if 18 countries have initiated these actions, then it is definitely a foreseeable goal if the rest of the world takes global warming measures more seriously and act upon making change.
Image: Flickr/Ken S Three