Humanity is falling further behind in the race against climate change, with the gap between greenhouse gas emissions and levels needed to achieve the Paris climate treaty temperature goals continuing to widen, the UN said on Tuesday.
With only 1°C of warming so far, the world has seen a crescendo of deadly wildfires, heat waves and hurricanes.
Temperatures are on track to rise about 4°C by the century’s end, a scenario that would tear at the fabric of civilization, scientists say.
To cap global warming at 2°C, national carbon-cutting pledges annexed to the 2015 Paris agreement must collectively triple by 2030, the UN Environment Program’s Emissions Gap report said.
To hold the rise in Earth’s temperature to 1.5°C above the preindustrial benchmark, such efforts would have to increase fivefold.
“The emissions gap is much bigger than last year,” said Philip Drost, one of several coordinators for the annual report’s ninth edition.
One obvious reason was a spike last year in the quantity of carbon dioxide, methane and other planet-warming gases escaping into the atmosphere.
This trend is set to continue this year, which saw a jump in carbon dioxide emissions from the energy sector, according to the International Energy Agency, as well as an increase in the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide.
However, the gap between where we are and where we need to be also grew on paper: Calculations by the UN’s top science panel sharply reduce the real-world potential for drawing carbon dioxide out of the air, whether by planting more trees or capturing and storing carbon dioxide emitted by power plants.
More broadly, a Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change special report released last month concluded that 2°C of warming — once seen as a safety guardrail — would in fact usher in a maelstrom of deadly extreme weather.
Taken together, rising emissions and revised projections on carbon dioxide removal have widened the emissions gap by 15 percent for a 2°C world, and by nearly 70 percent for the 1.5°C target, the program’s report said.
The news comes despite breakneck growth in solar and wind power, gains in energy efficiency and climate action by business and local governments, said Andrew Steer, president and CEO of the Washington-based World Resources Institute.
“We are chasing a bus [climate change] and we are going faster and faster, setting new world records,” he said by telephone. “But the bus is accelerating even faster and the gap is increasing.”
Momentum is most lacking at the national level, the report said.
Boosting carbon-cutting efforts is high on the agenda at UN climate talks starting next week in Katowice, although host country Poland has said that its top priority is finalizing the “rule book” for the Paris agreement, which enters into force in 2020.
However, upping ambition is to be a tall order, given that most major economies are not even on track to achieve their current pledges.
The US, the world’s second-biggest carbon emitter, is to miss its targets, as will Australia, Canada and South Korea, the UN report said.
The EU and South Africa are also to fall short.
Top emitters China and Russia are both on track, but mostly because their goals were so modest to begin with, as are Brazil, Japan and Turkey. It is uncertain whether Indonesia and Mexico are to hit their targets.
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