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2022 will hit a new record for climate pollution

2022 will hit a new record for climate pollution


The world has nine years to avert climate catastrophe, but we’re still pumping out record levels of pollution.

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Flames and smoke spew from a chimney against the blue sky.
A chimney from the Linden Cogeneration Plant is seen in Linden, New Jersey, on April 22nd, 2022. 
Photo by Kena Betancur / VIEWpress

The world is quickly approaching a new level of climate catastrophe as greenhouse gas emissions in 2022 reach record levels.

Carbon dioxide pollution from burning fossil fuels is on track to exceed pre-pandemic highs set in 2019, according to the latest Global Carbon Budget report produced by an international team of over 100 researchers. Now the world is in danger of surpassing a key climate threshold in just nine years if business continues as usual, the report finds.

In that timeframe, without deep cuts to planet-heating pollution, we’ve got a 50 / 50 chance of global warming climbing more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. At that point, the outlook for many communities’ and ecosystems’ ability to adapt gets pretty ominous.

At that point, the outlook for many communities’ and ecosystems’ ability to adapt gets pretty ominous

Twice as many megacities will become “heat-stressed” by 2050, putting up to 350 million more people at risk from dangerously high temperatures. Up to 50 percent more people around the world face dwindling water resources. Researchers expect to lose 99 percent of the world’s coral reefs as global temperatures inch toward 2 degrees of warming. And the list goes on of cascading climate damages.

That’s why delegates from nearly every nation on Earth are gathered in Egypt this week for the United Nations’ annual climate summit. This year, there’s a big emphasis on pushing wealthy countries responsible for the most pollution to pay up for the “loss and damage” caused by climate change. That refers to irrevocable losses that the most climate-vulnerable nations face from things like land lost to rising seas and encroaching deserts. The climate talks are also supposed to push countries to ramp up their commitments to slash pollution under the Paris agreement, which sets a goal of limiting global warming to around 1.5 degrees Celsius.

As the latest Global Carbon Budget report shows, the world isn’t on course to reach that goal. Carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels rose 1 percent in 2022 compared to the previous year. The biggest culprit behind that rise this year is pollution from aviation, according to the report. And while CO2 emissions in China and the European Union are projected to shrink this year, they’re rising everywhere else in the world — including in the US, the country responsible for the most greenhouse gas pollution historically.

To follow through on commitments made in the Paris agreement, the report says, countries have to notch huge emissions cuts each year moving forward. Emissions would have to fall about as much as they did in 2020 when the pandemic forced pollution cuts from transportation and industry. But now, the world has to clean up its act through clean energy instead of economic restrictions. It’s a tall order, but it would give the planet a fighting chance at stabilizing its temperature at 1.5 degrees. That’s the chance people and ecosystems around the globe need to acclimate to the changes our world has already undergone without piling even more disasters on top of the climate risks that are already here.