Huge influence of the largest emitters

The world's five largest economies are driving climate warming particularly strongly with their greenhouse gas emissions

The emissions of just five economies, China, the US, the EU, India and Russia, over the period 1991-​2030 will double the number of countries experiencing extreme hot years every second year by 2030, according to a new scientific paper published today in Communications Earth and Environment. The results highlight the outsized role these emitters play in driving warming and temperature extremes around the world.

The study led by scientists at ETH Zurich and Climate Analytics looks at the impacts of these top five emitters over two periods: 1991-​2030, and 2016-​2030, over which they will contribute 52% and 53% of global emissions respectively.

Under current emissions reductions targets, 92% of all countries are expected to experience extreme hot years every second year by 2030, twice as many countries as without the 1991-​2030 emissions from the top five polluters (46%).

Notably, 15% of this increase would be attributable to the emissions of these five economies between 2016-​2030 – after the Paris Agreement was signed.

“Our work shows that over a relatively short time period the emissions of these five economies have a strong impact on extreme heat experienced around the globe by 2030. We’re talking about annual mean temperatures that would only be experienced once every 100 years in pre-​industrial times happening every second year”, said ETH Zurich researcher Lea Beusch, lead author of the study.

The paper also looked at the per capita emissions of these major emitters. It found that if all countries had the same projected per capita emissions as the US – the highest per capita emitter in the group – in the period after the Paris Agreement was signed (2016-​2030), global mean warming in 2030 would be 0.4°C higher than under current pledged emission reductions. This is a full 0.5°C higher than if all countries followed the same per capita emissions trajectory of India, which has the lowest emissions per capita in the high emitters group.

The study comes in the wake of the COP26 Glasgow Climate Pact that requests countries to revisit their 2030 climate targets to align them with the Paris Agreement temperature goal of 1.5°C global warming above pre-​industrial levels.

“Our results underscore that the actions of the world’s top emitters will have a huge impact for our global temperature trajectory in this decade. How they respond to the COP26 outcome will be fundamental to whether 1.5°C stays within reach – none of their targets are currently sufficient”, says Alexander Nauels of Climate Analytics, who coauthored the study.

Further information

The full paper is Beusch L, et al. Responsibility of major emitters for country-​level warming and extreme hot years. Communications Earth & Environment, published online Jan 6th 2022. DOI: 10.1038/s43247-​021-00320-6

This article is authored by Peter Rüegg and first appeared on the ETH website.