The world will miss its chance to avert climate disaster without an immediate and all-but-impossible fall in fossil fuel emissions, the UN said yesterday in its annual assessment on greenhouse gases.
Global emissions need to fall by 7.6 percent annually every year until 2030 to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5°C, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) said.
The harsh reality is that emissions have risen on average 1.5 percent annually over the past decade, hitting a record 55.3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide or equivalent greenhouse gases last year — three years after 195 countries signed the Paris treaty on climate change.
The World Meteorological Organization on Monday said that atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations hit an all-time record last year.
The Paris deal committed nations to limit temperature rises above preindustrial levels to “well below” 2°C and to a safer 1.5°C if at all possible. To do so, they agreed on the need to reduce emissions and work toward a low-carbon world within decades.
Yet, the UN found that even taking into account Paris pledges, the world is on track for a 3.2°C temperature rise, something scientists fear could tear at the fabric of society.
Even if every country made good on its promises, Earth’s “carbon budget” for a 1.5°C rise — the amount that can be emitted to stay below a certain temperature threshold — would be exhausted within a decade.
In its own words, the UN assessment is “bleak.”
While it insisted the 1.5°C goal is still attainable, the UN said that this would require an unprecedented, coordinated upheaval of a global economy that is still fueled overwhelmingly by oil and natural gas-fueled growth.
“We are failing to curb greenhouse gas emissions,” UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen told reporters. “Unless we take urgent action now and make very significant cuts to global emissions, we’re going to miss the target of 1.5°C.”
The Emissions Gap report, now in its 10th year, also detailed the cost of a decade of government inaction.
Had serious climate action begun in 2010, just after the Copenhagen summit that breathed new life into the debate, annual needed emissions cuts would be 0.7 percent for 2°C of warming and 3.3 percent for 1.5°C, it said.
Andersen said that “10 years of climate procrastination has led us to where we are today.”
The report highlighted specific “opportunities” for big emitters to push their economies into line with the Paris goals.
While advice varies, the theme is clear: completely phase out coal; significantly pare back oil and gas; and dramatically build up renewable energy sources.
G20 nations were singled out as laggards: Although they produce about 78 percent of all emissions, only 15 rich nations have outlined plans to reach net-zero emissions.
The administration of US President Donald Trump earlier this month notified the UN that the US would pull out of the Paris treaty and has taken steps to boost fossil-fuel production, including subsidies for technology to capture and store carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.
In all, countries must increase their contributions to the climate fight fivefold to deliver the cuts needed for 1.5°C, the report said.
Last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — the world’s leading scientific body on climate change — issued a stark warning that going beyond 1.5°C would increase the frequency and intensity of heat waves, superstorms and mass flooding.
With just 1°C of warming so far, this year is projected to be the second-hottest in human history, a year marred by deadly wildfires and cyclones rendered more frequent as temperatures climb.
Despite the need for urgent action, with global energy demand set to continue rising for years, the UN itself conceded that “there is no sign of [greenhouse] gas emissions peaking in the next few years.”
That turning point should have come years ago, Union of Concerned Scientists director of policy Alden Meyer said.
“We are not running out of time — we are already out of time,” Meyer told reporters.
The report said that emissions would need to drop 55 percent by 2030 to stay on a 1.5°C track — an unprecedented fall at a time of sustained global growth.
Economist Intelligence Unit director of country analysis John Ferguson said that he was pessimistic that countries could undertake emissions cuts in the time required.
“There’s the emissions gap, but there’s also the gap between rhetoric and action, and that gap explains my pessimism that we’re not going to limit it to 1.5°C,” he told reporters.
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