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ESG urges Govt to publish climate strategy, as UN warns global emissions rose again in 2020

Brian Reyes

The Environmental Safety Group has called on the Gibraltar Government to publish its strategy to reduce pollution and Gibraltar’s reliance on fossil fuels.

The ESG made its call ahead of the 26th UN climate Change Conference of the Parties [COP26] in Glasgow, a global summit that starts on Sunday and brings together governments and organisations from around the world to tackle global warming.

It also coincided with publication of a new report by the UN’s World Meteorological Organisation [WMO] that found levels of planet-warming greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached record highs again last year.

“As the world looks towards Glasgow and the start of possibly the most crucial global gathering ever for discussion on climate change, the ESG notes that here in Gibraltar we have yet to publish our own strategy earmarking a pathway to reduce our impacts and emissions,’ the ESG said in a statement.

“We have been publicly and directly calling on Government for some time now to release its strategy, which, though affected by the global economic setback from Covid, must nevertheless set out an important and well drawn-out plan to influence, inform and regulate us away from our present fossil fuel reliance.”

“Reducing pollution, changing practices, and meaningfully divesting away from fossil fuels should form part of this strategy, to be time limited and enforced, and place Gibraltar in a responsible footing when attending the Glasgow conference in a matter of days.”

The ESG said that while the global situation was “overwhelming”, communities around the world must face up to the “major task” of reducing emissions and that local actions were vital to achieving that common goal.

“The ESG believes an informed community can better support the necessary and potentially difficult decisions that lie ahead,” the group said.

“The publication of Gibraltar’s climate strategy will therefore be a significant step in understanding what needs to be done.”

“Publishing ahead of such an important summit as COP26, will further demonstrate the commitment and political will by Government to support the need for action when attending the conference and joining other nations pressing for urgent change.”

In its report on Monday, the WMO said concentrations of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere rose at a faster rate in 2020 than over the previous decade, and the trend has continued in 2021.

The economic slowdown caused by the Covid-19 pandemic did not have any discernible impact on atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases and the rate they are building up – although there was a temporary decline in new emissions, the WMO said.

If greenhouse gas concentrations continue to increase at current rates, the world will see temperature rises far above globally agreed long-term targets to limit warming to 1.5C to 2C to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Greenhouse gases are emitted by human activities such as burning fossil fuels for power, heating and transport, farming and deforestation, and they build up in the atmosphere where higher concentrations of the gases trap more heat, causing rising temperatures, extreme weather and rising seas.

WMO secretary general Professor Petteri Taalas said the latest information on greenhouse gases contained a stark, scientific message for climate negotiators at the Cop26 talks, adding: “We are way off track.”

The last time the Earth had similar concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere was three to five million years ago when the temperature was 2C-3C warmer than now, and sea levels were 10-20 metres higher – but there weren’t 7.8 billion people living on the planet then, he warned.

Prof Taalas said: “Many countries are now setting carbon neutral targets and it is hoped that Cop26 will see a dramatic increase in commitments.”

“We need to transform our commitment into action that will have an impact on the gases that drive climate change.”

“We need to revisit our industrial, energy and transport systems and whole way of life.”

“The needed changes are economically affordable and technically possible. There is no time to lose.”

The latest annual greenhouse gas bulletin from the WMO shows that levels of carbon dioxide – the most important greenhouse gas – in the atmosphere reached 413 parts per million in 2020, 49% above what it was in 1750, before human activity started affecting natural systems.

Concentrations of other key greenhouse gases methane and nitrous oxide also hit record highs in 2020, as they increased at faster rates than in the past 10 years.

Roughly half the carbon dioxide emitted by human activities remains in the atmosphere, while the other half is absorbed by oceans and land habitats such as forests.

But the bulletin warns that these carbon-absorbing “sinks” may become less effective in the future, reducing their ability to take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and buffer the planet from even greater warming.

The bulletin has been published as world leaders and negotiators prepare to gather in Glasgow for the Cop26 climate conference in less than a week, where countries will be under pressure to take greater action to cut emissions of the greenhouse gases that are driving rising temperatures.

Responding to the report, Prof Dave Reay, the director of Edinburgh Climate Change Institute, University of Edinburgh, said the true success or failure of Cop26 would be written in the skies in the form of greenhouse gas concentrations.

“This new report from the WMO provides a brutally frank assessment of what’s been written there to date. So far, it’s an epic fail,” he said.

The “small window of opportunity” to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations at a level that meets global goals to curb rising temperatures was about to vanish, he warned.

Dr Heather Graven, reader in climate physics at Imperial College London, said: “These atmospheric measurements provide hard evidence that, rather than slowing climate change, we are accelerating it.”

“Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are increasing faster than ever.”

“It is crucial that Cop26 succeeds in ramping up mitigation efforts across the globe,” she said.

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