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New Studies Show Global Emissions Rising, G20 Climate Investments Falling in 2018

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Countries are still increasing their greenhouse gas emissions and scaling back their investments in GHG reductions, making 2020 a crucial year to turn the tide on the climate crisis.

“In 2018, global emissions grew once again, signalling that ever stronger efforts to reduce emissions are required to arrest global warming at 1.5°C,” the global Climate Transparency consortium reports [1], in its annual Brown to Green climate finance report released this morning. “This means G20 countries will have to ratchet up their 2030 emissions targets in 2020 and significantly bolster mitigation, adaptation, and finance measures over the next decade.”

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And yet, “investment in greenhouse gas emission reduction fell last year despite the growing urgency of the climate crisis, and the benefits of outlays were cancelled out by investments globally in fossil fuels and other dirty industries,” The Guardian reports [3], citing a study released last week by the Climate Policy Institute. “Global climate finance hit a record high of US$612 billion (£476 billion) in 2017, according to CPI advisers, but fell back 11% after that bumper year to $546 billion in 2018,” with low-carbon transit and private sector renewables purchases leading the downward trend.

The Guardian says average investment was 25% higher in 2017 and 2018 than in the two previous years. But even so, the study “found that investment at least more than three times as high as current levels would be needed annually until 2050 to clean up the world’s energy generation systems.” As well, “adapting to the impacts of climate breakdown is likely to cost more than $180 billion a year from 2020,” in contrast to the $30 billion per year actually spent over the last two years.

“Given the urgency of the climate challenge, it is a positive sign that we have passed the half-trillion-dollar mark of investment towards climate change activities,” said Barbara Buchner, CPI’s executive director of climate finance. But the current level of investment “is simply not enough, especially as investments in polluting industries continue to effectively cancel out these efforts to address climate change. Leaders should be focused on total economic transformation.”

The 2019 Brown to Green report backs that up with an assessment of G20 countries’ performance in climate change adaptation, mitigation, and finance—and their unique ability to do more and get it done faster.

“G20 countries are responsible for approximately 80% of global GHG emissions,” it states. “They account for 85% of the global GDP, two-thirds of global outward foreign direct investment flows, and the majority of the funds of multilateral development banks. The decisions of G20 countries influence financial flows, technological innovation, lifestyle choices, and business models worldwide.”

But those countries saw their greenhouse gas emissions grow 1.8% last year, driven by increased fossil fuel consumption connected to continuing economic growth.

“Energy supply rose most steeply in the U.S. and Canada as a result of strong growth and weather conditions,” Brown to Green states. “The energy supply from fossil fuels grew in nine G20 countries— Australia, Canada, China, India, Indonesia, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, and the U.S.—mainly due to increased fuel usage in transportation and higher electricity demand.”

The G20’s carbon intensity—the amount of carbon emitted per unit of economic activity—fell only slightly, and the 20 countries still derived 82% of their energy from fossil fuels. “This must fall to at least 67% by 2030 and to 33% by 2050 globally to be 1.5°C compatible, and ultimately to much lower levels—and to substantially lower levels without CCS [4],” the report notes.

While developing countries typically see the worst impacts of climate change, Brown to Green notes that the climate crisis cost the G20 about 16,000 premature deaths and $142 billion in economic impacts last year. And it pointed to the opportunity for those countries to reduce the impacts they face.

“Limiting global temperature increase to 1.5°C—rather than 3°C—reduces negative impacts across sectors in G20 countries by over 70%,” the report states. “For example, it cuts down the average drought length by 68% and the number of days above 35°C a year from 50 to 30. It also limits the growing season’s shrinkage and the reduction of rainfall, as well as substantially diminishing the risk of the heat waves that ravage crops.”

While about half of G20 countries are on track to meet or surpass their current targets under the 2015 Paris Agreement, and more of them are moving toward net-zero emission targets by 2050, actual emissions in 2018 were up 4.1% in buildings, 3.1% in buildings, 1.6% in the power sector, and 1.2% in transportation. The report shows fossil subsidies declining in much of the G20, 18 of the countries implementing carbon pricing or emissions trading schemes, but the bloc’s public finance institutions still pouring billions of dollars per year into new coal projects.Brown to Green cites public demand and G20 governments’ own self-interest as compelling reasons to embrace faster, deeper carbon cuts. “In a number of G20 countries, climate change is now seen as a top international threat (next to terrorism and cyberattacks), and popular support for climate action has grown strongly,” the reports states. Moreover, “it is in the G20 countries’ economic interest to act to prevent economic losses from climate impacts and stranded assets. More ambitious climate action improves health and yields economic gains [5] of US$26 trillion and 65 million more jobs worldwide by 2030.”