Steam rises from the coal-fired power plant with wind turbines nearby in Niederaussem, Germany. Image Credit: AP file

SHARM AL SHEIKH, Egypt: Nations will likely burn through their remaining carbon budget in less than a decade if they do not significantly reduce greenhouse gas pollution, a new study shows, causing the world to blow past a critical warming threshold and triggering catastrophic climate impacts.

But new gas projects - launched in response to Russia’s war in Ukraine and the resulting global energy crunch - would consume 10 per cent of that remaining carbon budget, making it all but impossible for nations to meet the Paris agreement goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, according to another report released on Wednesday.

The Global Carbon Budget, an annual assessment of how much the world can afford to emit to stay within its warming targets, found that greenhouse gas pollution will hit a record high this year, with much of the growth coming from a 1 per cent increase in carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels. Emissions in both the United States and India have increased compared to last year, while China and the European Union will probably report small declines, according to the report.

To have a chance of keeping global temperature rise within 1.5 degrees Celsius, humanity can release no more than 380 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent over the coming decades - an amount equal to about nine years of current emissions, the report says. To meet reduced emissions goals, the world will need to curb emissions by about 1.4 billion tons per year, comparable to how much emissions shrank in 2020, during pandemic stay-at-home orders.

Dangerous trajectory

Yet even as scientists warn of the world’s dangerous trajectory, leaders here at the UN Climate Change Conference, known as COP27, have advocated for natural gas as a “transition fuel” that would ease the world’s switch from fossil energy to renewables. At least four new gas projects have been reported or announced in the past 10 days, with several African countries pledging to expand export capacity and supply more fuel to Europe.

“The world seems to have overreached in its bid to respond to the energy crisis,” said climate scientist Bill Hare, founder of Climate Action Tracker partner organization Climate Analytics and an author of the report.

The only way for these projects to be compatible with the 1.5C target, Hare said, would be for them to close before the end of their useful lives, creating a risk of turning billion-dollar facilities into “stranded assets.”

Both reports stand in contrast to the way fossil fuels - especially natural gas - have been discussed at COP27.

Nations made history at last year’s conference when they agreed on the need to phase down coal and fossil fuels - the first time an explicit reference to the main drivers of warming was included in a COP decision text.

On the sidelines of that conference, a group of more than 20 countries pledged to stop public investments in overseas fossil fuel projects by the end of this year. But now some of those same countries are backsliding amid a frantic hunt for alternatives to Russian gas.

Meanwhile, an analysis of conference attendees by the advocacy group Global Witness found a sharp rise in representatives of the fossil fuel industry since last year’s COP. Some 200 people connected to oil, gas and coal are included in country delegations, the group said on Thursday, and another 236 are here with trade groups and other nongovernmental organizations.

“I’m really worried,” said Lorraine Chiponda, an environmental justice activist from Zimbabwe who co-facilitates a coalition of advocacy groups called Don’t Gas Africa. “This is supposed to be a space to discuss climate solutions, but instead it’s being used to drive fossil fuels.”

Meanwhile, wealthy nations have still not fulfilled an overdue promise to provide $100 billion to help vulnerable areas reduce emissions and adapt to warming that’s already underway. According to Climate Action Tracker, which also rates countries’ climate finance pledges, every rich country’s funding promises are insufficient.