This article looks into wasted time and sustainability. Climate change has risen in importance in recent years, but is it possible that a lack of action on the initial warnings has left too much to do in too little time?


This article was inspired by an excellent comment piece in Nature by Niklas Höhne, et al. that I read recently. You can find a link to this below.

Emissions: world has four times the work or one-third of the time

Reading this left me with a feeling of disappointment, as so much time has been wasted, leaving a lot of catching up to do. The 2020s will have to be a decade unlike any other.

Their paper was based on a synthesis of all ten editions of the Emissions Gap Report produced by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

This is an annual report that examines the difference between what countries have pledged to do individually to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and what they need to do collectively to meet agreed temperature goals — the ‘gap’.

Let’s begin by analysing their findings, unfortunately, they do not point towards a successful response:

Our analysis shows that the gap has widened by as much as four times since 2010.”

I will post their explanation in full below:

There are three reasons for this. First, global annual greenhouse-gas emissions increased by 14% between 2008 and 2018. This means that emissions now have to decline faster than was previously estimated, because it is cumulative emissions that determine the long-term temperature increase. Second, the international community now agrees that it must ensure a lower global temperature rise than it decided ten years ago, because climate risks are better understood. And third, countries’ new climate pledges have been insufficient.”

I liked the fact that they were highlighting the importance of cumulative emissions. In the rush of net zero by 2050 commitments, I think a lot of people are forgetting that the various pathways to net zero in 2050 matter. It is the intermediate targets and cumulative emissions that matter.

It was one of the following paragraphs that struck me most, and I will paste it in full below:

Had serious climate action begun in 2010, the cuts required to meet the emissions levels for 2°C would have been around 2% per year, on average, up to 2030. Instead, emissions increased. Consequently, the required cuts from 2020 are now more than 7% per year on average for 1.5°C (close to 3% for 2°C).”

The only thing you can take away from the above paragraph is a feeling of wasted time. The annual cuts required are now significant, requiring rapid alterations to economic and social systems as well as the uptake of new technology.

The authors close with the following ominous statement:

“The gap is so huge that governments, the private sector and communities need to switch into crisis mode, make their climate pledges more ambitious and focus on early and aggressive action. Otherwise, the Paris agreement’s long-term goals are out of reach. We do not have another ten years.”

What you need to know

This article looked into wasted time and sustainability.

It was based on a recent paper in Nature that analysed historical Emissions Gap Report data provided by UNEP.

The paper’s findings paint a bleak picture of global climate action in recent decades. Much time has been wasted, which has made the challenge between now and 2030 all the more challenging.

We have to hope that the 2020’s go down as a historic decade of climate action, unlike the preceding decades, that were largely squandered.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below, or reach out to me on social media. What do you think needs to be done to limit global temperature increases to below 1.5°C?

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I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

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