Climate change: what G7 leaders could have said – but didn't

Climate change: what G7 leaders could have said – but didn'tThe four-day G7 summit in Cornwall ended with little cause for celebration from anyone worried about climate change. Most of the pledges that emerged were relatively old news, with the UK repeating its promise of £500 million for ocean conservation efforts and the group reaffirming its commitment to end support for coal production abroad.

The leaders of (supposedly) the world’s richest democracies failed again to agree to new funding to help poorer parts of the world invest in green technology and adapt to extreme weather.

But more interesting than these pledges and non-pledges were the things that weren’t mentioned at all. One of the greatest unmentionables at climate summit after climate summit is just how badly we keep track of contributions to global warming.

It’s the elephant in the room at any gathering where the leaders of rich countries discuss climate change: historical responsibility. Everyone knows that G7 nations have contributed disproportionately to the global warming that has already happened. But exactly how much more?

If you search online for which country has caused most global warming, you find a list of how much countries emit each year. Delve deeper, and the next thing you find is how much they have reduced their emissions since 1990. This flatters mature economies, whose emissions are declining. But for carbon dioxide – the effects of which last almost indefinitely (and to an only slightly lesser degree, nitrous oxide, a byproduct of fertiliser production and use) – it’s accumulated emissions over time that determine a country’s contribution to global warming, not emissions in any given year.

A graph comparing cumulative emissions from G7 nations with India and China. How G7 countries on cumulative emissions compare with current top emitter, China. Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser/Our World in Data

Focusing on current emissions is particularly kind to the G7’s host. The UK’s emissions have declined sharply since 1990, but the country did start belching carbon dioxide out of its dark satanic mills almost 100 years before the rest of the world caught on. A tonne of carbon dioxide emitted by an English cotton mill in 1800 is having exactly the same impact on global temperature today as a tonne of carbon dioxide emitted by a Vietnamese power station in 2021.

Brazil promoted an effort to quantify country-level contributions to global warming in the 2000s, but it was quietly allowed to die. At present, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the main forum for international climate action, only requires countries to report their contributions to emissions, not warming. And everyone else, from corporations to personal carbon footprint calculators, follows suit.

“Isn’t that the same thing?” you might ask. Sadly, no. The method the UNFCCC has settled on to report emissions reflects their effect on the balance between the energy the Earth absorbs from the Sun and the energy it emits back into space over the 100 years after the date of the emission. This is somewhat related to their effect on global temperature, but it is a very long way from the same thing.

For emissions that accumulate in the atmosphere over decades to centuries, like carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide, the distinction doesn’t matter. But for methane, and a host of other climate pollutants that persist from only a few days to a couple of decades, it matters a lot. Any country contemplating setting up a fracking industry (notorious for leaking methane) can be quietly confident that it will be 100 years before the warming effect of their fugitive methane emissions will be accurately reflected in their reports to the UNFCCC.

Landing the plane with one eye shut

In the Paris Agreement, the world set itself a very ambitious goal. The headline goal is not about emissions, but to limit the rise in global average temperature to “well below 2°C”, pursuing efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C if possible.

That’s a good thing. By and large, the effects of climate change depend on how much we warm the planet overall, not warming by any given date, or the rate of emissions and warming at any given time, and certainly not planetary energy imbalance summed over an arbitrary time horizon. But right now, it is impossible to take stock of progress towards this temperature goal because countries, in their plans for 2030 and beyond, only report aggregate emissions using this rather odd accounting system that doesn’t reflect the effect of these emissions on global temperature.

If rich countries like the G7 are serious about stopping global warming, a good start might be clarifying who and what is causing it. There is no prospect of the UNFCCC changing its accounting system, but it does allow countries to report additional information if they deem it relevant.

And what could be more relevant than actual contributions to global warming? At COP26, the Glasgow climate conference in November 2021, the G7 nations could step up and declare they will henceforth report, in addition to their emissions, how much warming they have caused already, how much they continue to cause, and how much they propose to cause in future.

All the information exists. Warming contributions can be calculated using precisely the same formulae used for the UNFCCC’s own emissions reporting. It is simply a matter of putting the numbers out there and encouraging everyone else to do the same.

This isn’t just about outing the guilty rich. Acknowledging what is causing warming should focus minds on what it will take to stop it. And if we add up the G7’s planned contributions to future warming – never mind the contributions from China, India and the rest – it will soon become clear that we don’t just need to stop causing global warming as soon as possible, but we also need to be able to reverse it by taking carbon dioxide back out of the atmosphere and storing it, safely and permanently, somewhere else. Which is another topic they prefer to avoid at climate summits.

About The Author

Myles Allen, Professor of Geosystem Science, Director of Oxford Net Zero, University of Oxford

Related Books

Climate Leviathan: A Political Theory of Our Planetary Future

by Joel Wainwright and Geoff Mann
1786634295How climate change will affect our political theory—for better and worse. Despite the science and the summits, leading capitalist states have not achieved anything close to an adequate level of carbon mitigation. There is now simply no way to prevent the planet breaching the threshold of two degrees Celsius set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. What are the likely political and economic outcomes of this? Where is the overheating world heading? Available On Amazon

Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis

by Jared Diamond
0316409138Adding a psychological dimension to the in-depth history, geography, biology, and anthropology that mark all of Diamond's books, Upheaval reveals factors influencing how both whole nations and individual people can respond to big challenges. The result is a book epic in scope, but also his most personal book yet. Available On Amazon

Global Commons, Domestic Decisions: The Comparative Politics of Climate Change

by Kathryn Harrison et al
0262514311Comparative case studies and analyses of the influence of domestic politics on countries' climate change policies and Kyoto ratification decisions. Climate change represents a “tragedy of the commons” on a global scale, requiring the cooperation of nations that do not necessarily put the Earth's well-being above their own national interests. And yet international efforts to address global warming have met with some success; the Kyoto Protocol, in which industrialized countries committed to reducing their collective emissions, took effect in 2005 (although without the participation of the United States). Available On Amazon

This article originally appeared on The Conversation

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeiwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptruesswsvthtrukurvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook icontwitter iconyoutube iconinstagram iconpintrest iconrss icon

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

POLITICS

scientist activism 7 6
Rise of Science Activism: Changing the Culture of Scientists
by Scott Frickel, Brown University and Fernando Tormos-Aponte, University of Pittsburgh
Hundreds of scientists protested government efforts to restrict educational access to Western science theories,…
How Corporations Use Greenwashing To Convince You They Are Battling Climate Change
by Tom Lyon, University of Michigan
Many corporations claim their products are “green-friendly.” But how do you know if what they’re selling is truly…
The Thinking Error That Makes People Susceptible To Climate Change Denial
by Jeremy P. Shapiro, Case Western Reserve University
Cold spells often bring climate change deniers out in force on social media, with hashtags like #ClimateHoax and…
A row of male and female speakers at microphones
234 scientists read 14,000+ research papers to write the upcoming IPCC climate report
by Stephanie Spera, Assistant Professor of Geography and the Environment, University of Richmond
This week, hundreds of scientists from around the world are finalizing a report that assesses the state of the global…
image
Climate explained: how the IPCC reaches scientific consensus on climate change
by Rebecca Harris, Senior Lecturer in Climatology, Director, Climate Futures Program, University of Tasmania
When we say there’s a scientific consensus that human-produced greenhouse gases are causing climate change, what does…
Court Takes Industry Bait, Caves to Fossil Fuels
Court Takes Industry Bait, Caves to Fossil Fuels
by Joshua Axelrod
In a disappointing decision, Judge Terry Doughty of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana ruled…
G7 Embraces Climate Action to Drive Equitable Recovery
G7 Embraces Climate Action to Drive Equitable Recovery
by Mitchell Bernard
At Biden’s urging, his G7 counterparts raised the bar on collective climate action, pledging to cut their carbon…
Climate change: what G7 leaders could have said – but didn't
Climate change: what G7 leaders could have said – but didn't
by Myles Allen, Professor of Geosystem Science, Director of Oxford Net Zero, University of Oxford
The four-day G7 summit in Cornwall ended with little cause for celebration from anyone worried about climate change.…

LATEST VIDEOS

can we cool the planet 7 22
Can We Cool The Planet?
by Robert Jennings, InnerSelf.com
Climate change has emerged as one of the most pressing challenges of our time. Over the past century, human activities…
i5w7rk3a
The Devastating Impact of 3C Global Warming
by Robert Jennings, InnerSelf.com
Global warming is a pressing issue that poses severe threats to our planet and all its inhabitants. In recent years,…
The Great Climate Migration Has Begun
The Great Climate Migration Has Begun
by Super User
The climate crisis is forcing thousands around the world to flee as their homes become increasingly uninhabitable.
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
by Alan N Williams, et al
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that without a substantial decrease…
The Caspian Sea Is Set To Fall By 9 Metres Or More This Century
The Caspian Sea Is Set To Fall By 9 Metres Or More This Century
by Frank Wesselingh and Matteo Lattuada
Imagine you are on the coast, looking out to sea. In front of you lies 100 metres of barren sand that looks like a…
Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
The Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
by John Cook
This video is a crash course in climate misinformation, summarizing the key arguments used to cast doubt on the reality…
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
by Julie Brigham-Grette and Steve Petsch
Every year, sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean shrinks to a low point in mid-September. This year it measures just 1.44…
What Is A Hurricane Storm Surge and Why Is It So Dangerous?
What Is A Hurricane Storm Surge and Why Is It So Dangerous?
by Anthony C. Didlake Jr
As Hurricane Sally headed for the northern Gulf Coast on Tuesday, September 15, 2020, forecasters warned of a…

LATEST ARTICLES

global boiling is here 7 29
U.N. Warns: The Era of Global Boiling Has Arrived
by Robert Jennings, InnerSelf.com
The world faces an unprecedented climate crisis as temperatures soar and heat records are shattered across the globe.
amoc map 7 26
The Unseen Tipping Point: Understanding the Potential Impact of an AMOC Shutdown
by Robert Jennings, InnerSelf.com
The Unseen Tipping Point: Understanding the Potential Impact of an AMOC Shutdown Have you ever heard of the Atlantic…
can we cool the planet 7 22
Can We Cool The Planet?
by Robert Jennings, InnerSelf.com
Climate change has emerged as one of the most pressing challenges of our time. Over the past century, human activities…
global hungry 7 22
The Rising Tide of Global Hunger: Pandemic, Climate & Conflict Fuel Food Insecurity
by Robert Jennings, InnerSelf.com
In recent years, the world has witnessed a distressing surge in global hunger, painting a bleak picture of food…
keeping cool 7 20
Beat the Heat: Your Guide to Staying Safe in Extreme Temperatures
by Robert Jennings, InnerSelf.com
As the temperatures rise during the summer months, it's important to be aware of the risks associated with extreme heat.
i5w7rk3a
The Devastating Impact of 3C Global Warming
by Robert Jennings, InnerSelf.com
Global warming is a pressing issue that poses severe threats to our planet and all its inhabitants. In recent years,…
how hot is too hot 7 19
How Hot is Too Hot? The Risks of Extreme Heat on the Human Body
by W. Larry Kenney, Penn State et al
The answer goes beyond the temperature you see on the thermometer. It’s also about humidity. Our research is designed…
european heatwave 7 18
European Heatwave: What’s Causing It And Is Climate Change To Blame?
by Emma Hill and Ben Vivian, Coventry University
Europe is currently in the midst of a heatwave. Italy, in particular, is expected to face blistering heat, with…

° The amount of carbon dioxide that we can still emit while limiting global warming to a given target is called the “remaining carbon budget,” and it has become a powerful tool to inform climate...

Wood is an ancient material humans have been using for millions of years, for the construction of housing, ships and as a source of fuel for burning. It’s also a renewable source, and one way to...

When we say there’s a scientific consensus that human-produced greenhouse gases are causing climate change, what does that mean? What is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and what do...

A changing climate is upon us, with more frequent land and marine heatwaves, forest fires, atmospheric rivers and floods. For some, it is the backdrop to day-to-day life, but for a growing number...

The International Energy Agency’s recent, landmark report put another glaring spotlight on Australia’s failure to act on climate change. On the same night the report was

With many shops closed due to pandemic restrictions, Black Friday 2020 might have looked different from the frantic buying sprees of years past.


 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

New Attitudes - New Possibilities

InnerSelf.comClimateImpactNews.com | InnerPower.net
MightyNatural.com | WholisticPolitics.com | InnerSelf Market
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.