Op-Ed: The world population hit 8 billion — but with a peak in sight. What lessons does that have for climate change?
The world population hit 8 billion — and it may have hit a peak. The UN said in October that the population in the world was more than 8 billion people, and now it is thought to be slightly less than 8 by some estimates.
But while that’s a big milestone, we are still far from the peak of the human impact on the planet. A new UN report released Thursday shows global emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases will exceed 20 gigatonnes of CO2-equivalent by the year 2100, a big jump from the 15 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent that we’ve emitted to date.
Our emissions have been increasing in line with the trend, which has contributed to global warming — but the increase continues to be outpaced by the growth of people on the planet. The report from the UN Environment Programme says the last century’s rise in CO2 emissions has been about 20 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent.
In other words, the world will likely add another 20 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent of emissions, for a total of 40 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent. That’s nearly a 50 percent rise in emissions from the 20 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent since the 1970s.
The news about the world’s emissions is disheartening, of course, but it’s more important that we understand that we have a very long way to go.
The report says we can still do a lot to limit global warming compared to what’s happening now. Much of the emissions that we are responsible for will disappear on their own, because by the time the effects of climate change are felt, many things will have changed.
But the report also says, “even if we succeed in curbing the worst impacts of climate change, we will still have to reduce total emissions by at least 20-25 percent from current levels.”
That’s a pretty high bar to clear for a world that has not only hit the 8 billion mark, but also has set itself up to go on a growth spurt.
“We cannot keep on emitting the same