Carbon emissions: the ever-growing danger to the world

The world has only managed to agree there is a problem but they are yet to acknowledge what is required to solve the problem

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BY ANTONY MUTUNGA

In 1896, a Swedish scientist known as Svante Arrhenius forecasted the scope of the world warming up as a result of widespread coal burning. He was the first person to investigate the effects that doubling carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would have on the climate on earth. Over the years several other individuals worked on similar projects however, despite being something crucial, the analysis and findings never hit the spotlight at the time.

It wasn’t until recently that the world started to recognize and identify the threat that the emissions had on the climate. It was during the late 1980s when the World Nations agreed on the Montreal protocol and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was established as well after a series of droughts and fires were witnessed around the world. This was followed by a warning by James E. Hansen, a former NASA scientist, who declared to a US congressional hearing that the greenhouse effect had been detected and it was changing the global climate. He went on to state that the rising temperatures were as a result of human activity

From then on, more and more scientists as well as climate campaigners have been giving frantic warnings on the threats that are rising all over the world as a result of the greenhouse effect. However, despite the increasing warnings, the global greenhouse gas emissions have continued to increase. According to International Energy Agency (IEA), despite carbon emissions remaining flat for three years between 2014 and 2016, they rose again in 2017 by about 1.5% and are expected to rise again in 2018.

In fact, according to Glen Peters, research director at the Centre for International Climate Research (CICERO), since 1870 there has been a rise in the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and about half of the rise has occurred in the last 30 years due to emissions caused by human activity. This has been as a result of human beings relying much on burning fossil fuels as global demand for energy continues to increase.

With the world finally starting to face the consequences of global warming, governments all over the world started focussing on ways to reduce the emissions to the atmosphere. One of the approaches that most governments took was focussing on renewable energies such as solar and wind as an alternative to fossil fuels. Over the last decade, renewable energy capacity added to the global grid has been on a rise, doubling between 2007 and 2017.

In 2017 the world also recorded a rise in renewable energy, according to the Renewable Capacity Statistics 2018 by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), renewable energy generation capacity increased by 8.3% from 2,012GW to 2,179GW. Wind and solar energy were the front-runners that led the increase, as the two were responsible for 85% of the new capacity. In terms of region, Asia was responsible for 62% of the new capacity leading the charge in taking up renewable energy. Africa also recorded a strong capacity as the Continent recorded a capacity growth of 9.2%.

Even though there is an increase in renewables, the global demand for energy is increasing causing reliance on fossil fuels to increase as well. According to data from the World Bank, in 2015 about 80% of the world’s energy was still from coal, natural gases and oil resulting in the increase in emissions.

The increase in emissions has seen the world face dire consequences such as hurricanes – which include hurricane Maria that hit Carolina, Puerto Rico and Hurricane Harvey that hit Texas, U.S in 2017, wildfires – such as the California wildfires and Greece wildfires, drought as experienced in much of Africa and floods that hit much of Asia. There being an increase in emissions in the atmosphere, scientists predict that the extreme weather disasters will continue getting worse and continue making our world more inhabitable.

In order to avoid these catastrophes, the world came together in 2015 and the participating parties came up with the Paris Climate Agreement where every present party agreed to keep the global average temperatures from rising well below two degrees Celsius and to try and keep the rises lower than 1.5 degrees Celsius. Apart from the agreement, other countries also made pledges to reduce their carbon emissions. For example, before the Paris Summit, Kenya pledged to reduce its emissions by 30% by the year 2030.

By doing so, the world wanted to reduce the emissions to the atmosphere however; clearly this has yet to happen as emissions are still on the rise. James Hansen believes that the world has only managed to agree there is a problem but they are yet to acknowledge what is required to solve the problem. According to him, the Paris agreement was nothing more than a promise without any actions to actually reducing the emissions.

The rise in carbon emissions has been identified to be growing at faster rates in developing than in developed countries. This has been as a result of outsourcing whereby many factories have moved to emerging economies thus shifting pollution there. An example would be the increasing emissions in Asia where most European and American companies have moved.

Apart from this, Africa has also seen a rise in emissions as the Continent has been used as a dumping ground, by most developed countries, for most of polluting second hand vehicles. According to a report by the Centre for science and environment, the U.S, Japan and European Union have been exporting old and used cars to countries such as Kenya and Bangladesh for many years.

As a result, it ends up increasing emissions within the borders of these countries. According to Jane Akumu, UNEP’S Air Quality and Mobility Unit, countries that lack policies and incentives to attract cleaner vehicles are the ones importing the inefficient vehicles that emit greenhouse gases that are above the global averages.

Therefore in order to truly reduce the carbon emissions to the atmosphere, the countries in the Paris agreement need to focus on doing more than just agreeing there is a problem. For instance, there is a need to reform carbon pricing worldwide. One of the reasons why carbon emissions are increasing is because fossil fuels are very convenient. The world needs to come to an agreement to raise the price of fossil fuels in order to curb their reliance.

There is a need to focus on Carbon capture and storage (CCS) as another means of reducing the emissions to the atmosphere. CCS is a method of capturing waste carbon dioxide from power plants and burying it underground where it cannot enter the atmosphere. Already CCS is in place in the US and Europe and so far it puts away about 1% of annual global emissions, which is equals about 40 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.

To be able to put away more waste carbon dioxide the CCS will have to be deployed at a large scale. In fact according to the IEA, CCS has the potential to contribute around 14% of total energy-related carbon dioxide reductions by 2050.This in addition to other technologies has also led to less emissions where it is not only possible to remove carbon dioxide from the power plants only but from the atmosphere as well.

The world faced a large number of extreme climate disasters in 2017 and things haven’t been better for most of 2018 as well, an example being the Uganda mudslides, the Indonesia earthquake and tsunami as well as the California fires. It is clear that we need to handle the ever-expanding emissions in the atmosphere before it is too late. It is time for the countries in the Paris agreement to take action and commit towards reducing the emissions. As James Hansen said, “it is not going to be easy but it’s worth the effort, we’ve only got one planet.”