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  • Rovindu Ambagolla

Triple Bottom Tuesday >>> Carbon is Back

Picture Credit: Thomas Millot

The world economy is slowly opening up after the Coronavirus left it in shambles since early 2020. Now as the vaccines crank down on Coronavirus related fatalities, government leaders are eager to get their economies back on track to pre-Covid levels. However, as the world economy makes a comeback, so does the extreme levels of greenhouse gas emissions.

The Global Carbon Project, which is a research group that was prepared to assist world leaders in COP26 by quantifying greenhouse gas emissions and their causes, have warned that greenhouse gas emissions have returned to a pre-covid level this year. Last year emission levels fell by 5.4% due to the pandemic, but this year emissions are rising rapidly after it was reported that there was a 4.9% increase compared to 2020 emission levels. That’s 36 gigatons of CO2 ­released into the atmosphere just this year alone. “Emissions snapped back like a rubber band…That’s the same thing we saw after 2008, where emissions dropped 1.5% in 2009 and then jumped 5% in 2010 as if nothing changed”, commented Robert Jackson, a professor at Stanford University.

Experts estimate that in order to meet the “promises” that world leaders made in the Paris Agreement signed back in 2015, nations will now have to cut emissions every year by an amount greater than both Germany’s and Saudi Arabia’s carbon output combined. This dramatic comeback of carbon emissions can be traced back to the decision made by some nations to revert to coal power plants.

Picture Credit: Callum Shaw

Coal is the worst polluter of carbon and countries like China are still heavily reliant on coal-based power plants. China is the biggest polluter of CO2 and their post-Covid recovery plan put their coal power plants to extensive use. China is on track to have their overall emissions levels this year to be 5.5% higher than they were in 2019. The use of coal peaked in 2014 and since then has been on the decline, but this year’s results changed those trends. “We thought China had peaked coal, but it has now clawed back over the peak” commented Glen Peters, research director at the Centre for International Climate Research.

World leaders are struggling to meet the upcoming deadlines to keep temperatures below the 1.5°C mark due to a lack of investment in the field and their tendencies to choose rapid economic development over preserving the health of the environment. Some countries even seem to be heading in the complete opposite direction such as Saudi Arabia, who plan on ramping up their oil production.

However, there is still a silver lining. The Global Carbon Project came to the startling conclusion that forest regrowth is larger than initially projected by the UN, which means that trees have absorbed more CO2 in the past two decades than expected. The revised deforestation numbers, along with outstanding innovations such as carbon capture technology, is a beacon of hope that human ingenuity combined with nature’s resilience can overcome the imminent threat of global warming.

November 09th 2021 | 3:30 PM

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