The most recent data indicates that not only are we are far from where we need to be to slow global warming, we are falling further behind. Greenhouse gas emissions are rising again and the planet is getting hotter. After three consecutive years of decline, global emissions began to rise again in 2017. They are expected to increase even more in 2018.
The UN emissions gap report was released ahead of the upcoming COP 24 meetings in Katowice, Poland where governments will meet to discuss their failure to achieve the targets laid out in the Paris climate agreement.
At 53.5 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, global emissions have reached historic levels. Worse still they show no signs of peaking. If we are to stave off the most cataclysmic impacts of climate change we must urgently reduce emissions. Scientists have determined that we need to keep temperatures from rising above the upper threshold limit of 1.5 – 2.0 degrees Celsius. Earth has already warmed 1.8 C since the beginning of the 20th century.
As reported by the Guardian, Joyce Msuya, deputy executive director of UN Environment, said: “The science is clear: for all the ambitious climate action we’ve seen, governments need to move faster and with greater urgency. We’re feeding this fire, while the means to extinguish it are within reach.”
Although President Trump tried to bury it, the second installment of the Fourth Climate Assessment made it clear that his own government acknowledges that climate change will be costly for the US economy. The fact that Trump dismissed the report should come as no surprise as he is the world’s leading climate denier. He has announced that he is pulling the US out of the Paris Climate agreement and he has advocated for increased use of fossil fuels while eradicating most of President Obama’s climate initiatives. Even before this report was released it was already clear that he would not heed warnings about economic havoc wreaked by climate change.
It is not just the US that has reneged on its commitments. According to the gap report, big polluters are failing to meet the emissions reduction commitments laid out in the Paris Climate agreement. This includes EU member states and countries like Canada, Australia, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Argentina and South Africa. The world’s wealthiest countries known as the G20, are responsible for 80 percent of global carbon pollution.
Low targets have made it possible for Brazil, China, Japan, India, Russia and Turkey to meet or exceed their emissions reduction targets. The report notes that emissions have not peaked in many of these countries.
The report suggests we could see temperature increases that far exceed the upper threshold limit by 2100. Climate change is already adversely impacting the earth and its inhabitants. We are already seeing rising sea-levels and more extreme weather events, but warming of the magnitude suggested in this report would augur species extinction on an even greater scale, ending of civilization as we know it.
Although the report indicates the situation is dire it also predicts that with a consorted global effort we can meet our carbon emission reduction targets.
The report states that to stay within the 2 degree upper threshold temperature limit we will need to cut global emissions by a third by 2030, to stay within the 1.5 degree limit we would need to cut CO2 by more than 50 percent in the same time frame. That translates to a three to five fold increase in national emissions reduction commitments. The report suggests that in order to make such reductions we need to end subsidies for fossil fuels and level some form of carbon tax. Additional investments in clean energy and more ambitious government policies are also necessary.
If we need more motivation to act consider the ominous warning from Jennifer Morgan, the executive director of Greenpeace International: “The window of opportunity is starting to close and if we fail to act now the opportunity will be gone. Failure to act will lock in catastrophic global warming that will change the planet irrevocably and condemn millions to suffering. What are governments waiting for?”
Click here to access the UN Emissions Gap Report 2018