Human emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are a primary driver of climate change and present one of the world’s most pressing challenges.
This link between global temperatures and greenhouse gas concentrations – especially CO2 – has been true throughout Earth’s history. Therefore it is important to monitor and combat CO2 emissions because climate change is currently fuelled by human actions.
As the world enters the second year of the Covid-19 pandemic, the annual Global Energy Review assesses the global energy demand and carbon dioxide emissions are taking in 2021. Here are some key findings from the report published by the International Energy Agency.
The Covid-19 pandemic continues to impact the global energy demand. Third waves of the pandemic are prolonging restrictions but stimulus packages and vaccine rollouts provide a beacon of hope. The global GDP is expected to be more than 2% higher than 2019 levels. Emerging markets are driving energy demand back above 2019 levels. Global energy demand is set to increase by 4,6% in 2021, 0,5% above 2019 levels.
Global energy-related CO2 emissions are heading for their second-largest annual increase ever.
Demand for all fossil fuels is set to grow significantly in 2021. Sluggish demand for transport oil is mitigating the rebound in emissions. Oil use for road transport is not projected to pre-Covid levels until the end of 2021. Oil use for aviation is projected to remain 20% below 2019 levels, even in December 2021.
Global coal demand in 2021 is set to exceed 2019 levels and approach its 2014 peak. Coal demand is on course to rise 4.5% in 2021, with over 80% of the growth concentrated in Asia. Among fossil fuels, natural gas is on course for the biggest rise relative to 2019 levels. Natural gas demand is set to grow by 3,2% in 2021, propelled by increasing demand in Asia, the Middle East and Russia. Electricity demand is set for its fastest growth in more than 10 years. Electricity demand is due to increase by 4,5% in 2021, or over 1 000TWh. This is almost 5 times greater than the decline in 2020.
Renewables remain the success story of the Covid-19 era. Demand for renewable energy grew by 3% in 2020 and is set to increase across all key sectors – power, heating, industry and transport – in 2021. Renewables are set to provide more than half of the increase in global electricity supply in 2021. Solar PV and wind are expected to contribute 2/3 of renewable’s growth. The share of renewables in electricity generation is projected to increase to almost 30% in 2021. China alone is likely to account for almost half the global increase in renewable electricity generation. They are expected to generate over 900TWh from solar PV and wind in 2021.
In November 2015, 197 countries came together in Paris and agreed to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase on our planet to 1,5°C. The Climate Action Tracker monitors the climate commitments and actions of 36 countries, totalling roughly 80% of today’s global greenhouse gas emissions.
Here’s the bad news: those emissions are STILL rising and have already warmed the globe by 1,1 °C. The tracker makes 2 problems clear. First, countries have not set targets ambitious enough to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement. Even if every country hit their targets, the temperature will still increase with more than 2°C over the next 70 years and continue to rise into the 22nd century and beyond. Second, governments are simply not delivering, even on their unambitious targets. Everything these 36 countries have done so far, and everything they are currently planning, will only slow the growth of emissions. More needs to be done. To have a hope of limiting global warming to 1,5°C, we need to cut emissions by half by 2030 and get to net-zero by 2050.
Source: Climate Tracker
Of the 36 countries analysed, only 2 are taking enough action to restrain global warming to 1,5°C. The Gambia has pledged to reduce its emissions despite being one of the developing countries that has contributed least to the problem. And Morocco is building more and more solar power. Every other country is failing. 2020 was the year national governments were supposed to come together and strengthen their targets. So far, only a few have done so while others have announced that they are sticking to their insufficient targets.
Some countries aren’t too far behind The Gambia and Morocco, such as India and Kenya. But the countries with the most advanced economies, those with the greatest capacity to innovate and help others, are shirking their responsibilities to lead like the United States who has withdrawn from the Paris agreement.
China shows promise. Its pledge to balance out its carbon emissions by 2060 could save the world as much as 0,3°C of global warming. But actions on the ground remain divided. China is the largest market for wind and solar power, but also new coal-fired power plants. The EU is taking steps in the right direction with its Green Deal to make member countries more sustainable. But this deal is still not enough for 1,5 °C.
Is there any sign of hope? One key measure is a country’s willingness to clean up its electricity. Clean power can enable other sectors to reduce or eliminate emissions. Over 50 countries, 30 regions, 160 cities and 200 businesses have committed to 100% clean electricity. Denmark, Scotland and the state of South Australia are almost there already, but much of the world still need to commit to and accelerate this energy transition.
There’s more good news in the transportation sector. More than 20 countries, 5 regions, 50 cities and 60 businesses have already committed to 100% emission-free cars, motorcycles and busses. Norway is mandating the end of all sales of fossil fuel cars by 2025. Meanwhile, the U.S. is allowing companies to make cars that don’t travel as far on a gallon of gas, rolling back fuel efficiency standards.
Other sectors, such as steel and cement making, aviation and shipping are even further behind and trickier to clean up. But some steel and cement companies are developing carbon-free production. Norway and Scotland are targeting carbon-free short-haul flights.
Global energy-related CO2 emissions, 1900-2020
Where does South Africa stand?
On the Climate Action Tracker website, South Africa is rated as a country whose Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) are highly insufficient. NDCs with this rating fall outside of a country’s “fair share” range and are not at all consistent with holding warming below 2°C, let alone with the Paris Agreement’s stronger 1,5°C limit. If all government NDCs were in this range, warming would reach between 3°C and 4°C.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated South Africa’s health, social and economic challenges, currently facing the fifth-highest COVID-19 caseload of all countries worldwide as of August 2020. Initial proposals by the South African government for post-COVID-19 economic recovery indicate its intention to focus on carbon-intensive investments instead of prioritising a ‘green’ recovery. The economic recovery choice has direct implications for implementing the recently adopted Integrated Resource Plan (IRP2019) if carbon-intense projects were prioritised at the expense of an accelerated rollout of renewables. According to an emerging body of literature from the CAT and other institutions, investments in low-carbon technologies would enable substantial opportunities in South Africa for value chain localisation, local air pollutant reduction and job creation. The CAT continues to rate South Africa “Highly insufficient”.
But change is in the pipeline. In March of this year, the South African government published a draft of its updated NDC – which are at the heart of the Paris Agreement and the achievement of these long-term goals. If this NDC is approved, it will strengthen our target range for 2030. The upper end is now 28% lower than in the previous NDC while the lower end is unchanged. This would likely increase the CAT’s rating to “Insufficient” based on the range’s upper limit. The NDC was open for public consultation at the end of May 2021.
In his statement on 26 April 2021, President Ramaphosa said that “the time for greater climate action is now. We have to reduce our emissions. We have to adapt and build resilience for our communities and our economy.” The president also said that our NDC, which outlines our targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, is an “important part of our response,“ and that “it is only by working together to find solutions and by raising the level of our ambition, that we can reduce the impact of climate change on our country.”
Deborah Ramalope, an analyst at Climate Analytics and a former member of the South African delegation to UN climate talks, said the draft plan was “much stronger” than its 2015 commitments but left room for greater ambition. It is “still not aligned with the Paris Agreement temperature goal” of limiting heating to 1.5°C by the end of the century, she goes on to say.
What does the law say?
Climate change is not just a buzzword or a PR strategy. Most countries have laws implemented to combat climate change and enforce punishment for those that disregard it. This legislation makes the country and the businesses in them accountable for actions that have a negative effect on our climate.
There has been a 20-fold increase in the number of global climate change laws since 1997, according to the most comprehensive database of relevant policy and legislation. The database, produced by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and the Sabin Center on Climate Change Law, includes more than 1,200 relevant policies across 164 countries, which account for 95% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Environmental law is not a new movement though. The collective of environmental laws entailing aspects of the law that protect the environment. The laws, rules, and regulations cover a wide field of what is legal and what is not about pollution control and resource sustainability.
In South Africa, environmental law recounts the legal rules in South Africa pertaining to the social, economic, philosophical and jurisprudential issues raised by attempts to protect and conserve the environment. South African environmental law encompasses natural resource conservation and utilization, as well as land-use planning and development, among others. Issues with the international dimension, which has shaped much of the direction of environmental law in South Africa, are considered. The role of the country’s Constitution, crucial to any understanding of the application of environmental law, also is examined. The National Environmental Management Act (NEMA) provides the underlying framework for environmental law.
In the effort to lower our carbon emissions, the laws about sustainable development are of particular interest. The intent is to have social, economic and environmental factors added into planning, implementation and decision-making to ensure that development serves present and future generations.
President Ramaphosa signed into law the Carbon Tax Act in 2019 as a means to disincentives those companies and/or institutions that emit CO2 gasses as part of their organisational runnings. The impact of the legislation will have a transformative effect on the South African economy. Organisations of all types and sizes and across all industry sectors have to act decisively to manage the commercial implications of the carbon tax.
But South Africa is not part of the elite group of countries that have enacted emissions-target legislation, aiming to eliminate carbon emissions by 2050. There are only 5 countries that have done this, New Zealand, Sweden, France, the United Kingdom, and Scotland.
The current state of CO2 emissions might look like a gloomy situation, but there are many fighting climate change. A notifiable difference will come when ALL are fighting climate change.
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