Global Carbon Emissions Set to Hit Record High in 2018

From COP24 in Poland, Greenpeace USA’s Naomi Ages says that carbon emissions are set to rise by 2.7% in 2018 due to more coal use in Asia, and that to combat this trend nations need to do more than what they agreed to in the 2015 Paris Accord

Global Carbon Emissions Set to Hit Record High in 2018

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Story Transcript

DHARNA NOOR: It’s The Real News. I’m Dharna Noor.

Global carbon dioxide emissions have reached a record high this year, according to a new Global Carbon Project report released Wednesday. Worldwide carbon emissions are expected to rise by 2.7 percent this year. Last year they grew by 1.6 percent. The report came during the UN’s climate talks, or COP24, for which nearly 30,000 participants from almost 200 nations have convened in Katowice, Poland.

Joining me to talk about this new report and COP24 is Naomi Ages. Naomi is the senior climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace USA, and she’s joining us from Katowice, Poland. Thanks so much for being here today.

NAOMI AGES: Thanks so much for having me.

DHARNA NOOR: OK. You’re in Poland for COP24, where leaders are gathered to talk about how to comply with the 2015 Paris Climate Accord, the international, non-binding agreement to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels. How does this new Global Carbon Project report impact progress on curbing emissions, and what does it say about what nations have or haven’t been doing since 2015?

NAOMI AGES: Yeah, there’s been a number of reports that have come out in the lead up to this COP. We had the IPCC report. We had the National Climate Assessment. And we have this report that you just referenced. And it’s disappointing to see that emissions are on the rise for the second year in a row, and it really hammers the need for ambition at this conference, and the need for governments to recommit to the fulfilling not just their commitments under the Paris agreement, but to scaling up what they need to do in terms of reducing emissions, in phasing out coal, oil, and gas, specifically coal, as quickly as possiblde. And in investing in solutions like sinks, like forests, like solar, like wind, like the tech that we need and the renewable energy transition that the government really needs to take seriously, not just based on this new report but certainly in light of this new report.

DHARNA NOOR: You mentioned that this is the second year in a row that global carbon emissions have been on the rise. But before that, from 2014 to 2016, I understand that they didn’t increase; emissions were actually flat. Why are emissions now on the rise? Is there some particular trend that you’re observing?

NAOMI AGES: The best information we have on that is due to the increase in coal in Asia. And so that sector really needs to be phased out and reformed as quickly as possible. And so it’s one of the best ways to reduce air pollution, it’s one of the best ways to reduce air pollution-related illnesses and death. And it’s certainly one of the best ways to reduce emissions and to get us on the track not just meeting but exceeding the Paris goal. So the phasing out of coal by 2030 really should be a priority for governments at this conference.

DHARNA NOOR: Yeah, we were speaking off camera earlier about the irony of having this conference in coal country Poland. Katowice is a small town where coal is a major part of the economy. Have there been observable effects of this increase in emissions? I mean, can you kind of directly tie the increase in carbon emissions to–for instance, we’re seeing fires in California, or increased rainfall and the many devastating hurricanes we saw this year.

NAOMI AGES: So, I wouldn’t say it’s due to the last two years of increase in emissions. The emissions since 1850, since the Industrial Age, the impact you’re seeing now are those locked-in impacts that scientists have been raising the warning about, telling us not just with the IPCC report, but with previous climate science telling us that these impacts are going to come. And now we’re actually seeing them happen. So the increased frequency and severity of hurricanes, wildfires, floods, droughts, these are all extreme weather events linked to climate change and made worse by climate change. So if we continue to increase emissions like the last two years, then we will continue to lock in even more devastating impacts. So like I said ad nauseum to you, it’s time for governments to take that seriously, to see the destruction and the devastation, to realise the most vulnerable people are already suffering, and raise their ambition here at the COP and elsewhere, not just at this conference.

DHARNA NOOR: And as you mentioned, this is just the most recent in a series of reports that we’ve seen stressing the urgency of climate change. Over the past few months we’ve seen October’s IPCC report on 1.5 degrees showing we must we may have just 12 years to avoid catastrophic and irreversible effects of climate change. The federal report released on Black Friday showed that climate change could cost the U.S. hundreds of billions of dollars per year and kill thousands of people. And you’re saying, of course, that this should be spurring urgency amongst world leaders and amongst, particularly, nations who are emitting the most. But are you are you seeing that? Are you seeing these reports have that kind of effect at COP24?

NAOMI AGES: Well, we haven’t seen the outcome yet from COP24. I’m hesitant to say yes or no in any definitive way. Certainly we’ve seen that the IPCC report, the National Climate Assessment–that was report released, unfortunately, on Black Friday–have told us how serious this problem is. And I know that Greenpeace, the NGO community, and a lot of the negotiators, delegates from vulnerable countries are raising that over and over again here with the biggest emitters, with the countries that really have the most responsibility here. And I know those concerns are heard. Whether the outcome will be as strong as is necessary, you know, we just don’t know yet. I’d say we really need the biggest emitters to step up and to take that seriously, and we certainly need people everywhere, NGOs, individuals, vulnerable countries, to keep hammering that point about how serious it is.

DHARNA NOOR: And what does that actually look like? I mean, October’s IPCC report called for, quote: “Unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.” What kind of action would be needed to curb those emissions, to end the fossil fuel industry’s emissions? I mean, 17 congresspeople have signed onto this proposal for a Green New Deal, pushed by young climate activists with the Sunrise Movement, and Rep-elect Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez from New York. What does that phase out actually look like?

NAOMI AGES: You know, it’s a good question. And the Green New Deal is a great organizing tool for that policy, and a great umbrella for us to talk about the things that are needed, especially in the United States where we are, unfortunately, trying to increase our dependence on an export of fossil fuels. Which is not just a mistake by the Trump administration, but just irresponsible and dangerous. And so a Green New Deal has to really reform every sector. It means transport, it means electricity, it means agriculture, and it also means the phase out of fossil fuel. So no offshore drilling, no onshore drilling, no new permits for gas pipelines, no new export terminals. Certainly no coal expansion. And it also means a just transition, and that means finding ways for communities who are suffering the effects of climate change, they need resilience, and to have the resources they need to adapt to the impacts that are still coming. And it means for workers and for the people who are going to be impacted by a transition to renewable energy to make sure that they have the resources they need. So it comes from every sector; local, federal, state. And it really comes down to is the political will there to do it?

DHARNA NOOR: And talk about how we get to a point where we have that political will. I mean, in response to COP24, you might expect that world leaders would be increasing these sort of emissions limits. But instead, in response, yesterday Trump’s EPA acted to roll back control on climate change and coal, lifting greenhouse gas limits on coal power plants.

NAOMI AGES: Right. I mean the Trump administration, what they’re doing is so irresponsible. It is so dangerous. And it really will go down as one of the greatest moral abdication in history at a time when the U.S. could not only be taking responsibility for its historic emissions and leading the world in a just transition to a renewable energy economy, and really showing climate leadership, we’re actually slowing progress. And–well, I say we. I mean the Trump administration. Certainly the vast majority of people in the U.S. don’t agree with what the administration is doing. And it’s important to note that the rules the EPA tried to lift yesterday, it was an unproven technology to begin with. Carbon capture and storage has never been used at scale, has never been proven to work. And so this is just another sort of signal by Trump to his fossil fuel industry executives that he’s on their side. But it has nothing to do with a just transition for the people of the United States. And so it’s exactly the wrong signal to be sending, but it’s also been met with the appropriate amount of pushback and derision, I would say.

DHARNA NOOR: So do you have hopes that in the face of, you know, the Trump administration, of a Republican-controlled Senate, of these oil and gas executives who have so much power, that something like this just transition could take place? That we could actually see the kinds of climate action that you’re suggesting we need?

NAOMI AGES: I do. I think you can look at the letter that Senator Schumer set out today saying that any infrastructure bill must take climate change into account. That’s really the first strong statement we’ve seen from Senate Democrats on things like that. Now, that would obviously be a floor, not a ceiling, on how to get from a just transition and how to write an infrastructure bill that actually brings in that type of transformation that I’m talking about. But we’re seeing, I think you said something like 11 or 22 members signed up to the Green New Deal, and that started with just four members who–member-elects–who stand up to the Green New Deal. There was the town hall just last week that Senator Sanders hosted where various panelists talked about the type of policies, the types of ambitions that could get us to the type of transformation that we need.

So there’s good things coming out of this most recent election, and the year since the Paris agreement, in the United States. It’s nowhere near enough, and it’s nowhere near enough from the entire world. And that’s why we’re really demanding more ambition from governments here at the COP. But it’s also important to note that the COP is not the only thing that’s going to solve the climate problem. It really has to be every sector. It really has to be businesses, it has to be finance. Trillions are needed for this transition. We have to find a way to phase out and fundamentally change the fossil fuel industry, and we have to find a way to do that that doesn’t leave people and workers behind. So it’s a huge, a huge scope of a project, but the opportunities there are also huge.

DHARNA NOOR: And in the face of these rising emissions globally, who should be doing the most work to curb these emissions? Who are the worst emitters, and who should be taking on that responsibility?

NAOMI AGES: Now, that’s a really important question. Historically the United States is the biggest carbon emitter, and it’s still number two. Number one right now is China, but that’s only been in recent years. And so it’s really the countries first with the most historic responsibility. So the United States, Canada, European countries, and now countries like India and China have certainly caught up in emissions. And that distinction is reflected in the Paris agreement and in the documents that have come out since then. But it really is the countries that have the highest emissions that should be looking to curb them the most, and to also offer the support needed to the countries that have not been historic emitters and are suffering the worst impacts of climate change from these historic emissions.

Certainly. And we’ve already seen a number of islands be destroyed by climate change, and the effects on weather from climate change. But how do you–I mean, how do you push for curbed emissions in the face of countries like India and China pushing for economic growth? I mean, part of the reason, I think, that these emissions are on the rise is because there has been growth in the kinds of industries that are contributing to, obviously, climate change in devastating ways, but are also contributing to booms in their economies.

NAOMI AGES: Sure. I think it’s a, it’s a talking point the fossil fuel industry likes, that you can’t separate growth from fossil fuels, and that we need energy to develop, and that by trying to halt thier development you’re really trying to keep people in poverty. And that’s just not true. The tools are there, the tech is there, to invest in renewables and use that as a source of energy for growth. Now, we also can’t have endless growth, because that results in a lot of negative impacts on the environment. But we’re not talking about completely stopping development. We’re talking about sustainable development. And we’re talking about it in a way that makes it as fair and just as possible. And so the tools are there. The tech is there. We need finance and we need political commitment to do it.

DHARNA NOOR: OK. Naomi Ages, the senior climate and energy campaigner of Greenpeace USA joining us from Katowice, Poland. Thanks so much for being here today, and we hope to hear from you again as COP24 progresses.

NAOMI AGES: Thanks so much for having me.

DHARNA NOOR: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.