Friday 6 December 2019

Drastic action is needed now to stop climate disaster - UN

Melting: Tourists by an iceberg in Canada. The UN warned the Paris treaty cap of 1.5C may be ‘out of reach’. Photo: Johannes EISELE/AFP via Getty images
Melting: Tourists by an iceberg in Canada. The UN warned the Paris treaty cap of 1.5C may be ‘out of reach’. Photo: Johannes EISELE/AFP via Getty images

Brady Dennis

The world has squandered so much time mustering the action necessary to combat climate change that rapid, unprecedented cuts in greenhouse gas emissions offer the only hope of averting an ever-intensifying cascade of consequences, according to new findings from the United Nations (UN).

Already, the past year has brought devastating hurricanes, relentless wildfires and crippling heat waves, prompting millions of protesters to take to the streets to demand more attention to a problem that seems increasingly urgent.

Amid that growing pressure to act, yesterday's UN report offers a grim assessment of how off-track the world remains. Global temperatures are on pace to rise as much as 3.9C by the end of the century, according to its annual "emissions gap" report, which assesses the difference between the world's current path and the changes needed to meet the goals of the 2015 Paris climate accord.

As part of that deal, world leaders agreed to hold warming to "well below" 2C compared with pre-industrial levels; the current trajectory is nearly twice that.

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Should that pace continue, scientists say, the result could be widespread and catastrophic: Coral reefs, already dying in some places, would probably dissolve into increasingly acidic oceans, some coastal cities, already wrestling with flooding, would be constantly inundated by rising seas; and in much of the world, severe heat, already intense, could become unbearable.

Global greenhouse gas emissions must begin falling by 7.6pc each year beginning 2020 - a rate currently nowhere in sight - to meet the most ambitious aims of the Paris climate accord, the report found.

Its authors acknowledged that the findings are "bleak". After all, the world has never demonstrated the ability to cut greenhouse gas emissions on such a scale.

"Our collective failure to act early and hard on climate change means we now must deliver deep cuts to emissions," Inger Anderson, executive director of the UN Environment Programme, said in a statement announcing the findings. "We need to catch up on the years in which we procrastinated."

The sobering report comes at a critical moment, in which it remains unclear whether world leaders can summon the political will to take the ambitious action scientists say is essential. So far, the answer has been no.

Global emissions have risen about 1.5pc annually on average over the past decade. In the coming decade, that trend must reverse - profoundly and rapidly - if world leaders are to limit the Earth's warming to 1.5C or even 2C compared with pre-industrial levels, scientists say.

The world already has warmed more than 1C.

Yesterday's report, which is viewed as the benchmark of the world's progress in meeting its climate goals, underscores how the pledges that nations made years ago in Paris are woefully inadequate to achieving the goals of the accord.

To hold warming to "well below" 2C, the authors found that countries would need to triple the ambition of their current promises. To hit the more ambitious target of no more than 1.5C of warming, they found, nations would need to ramp up their pledges fivefold.

"Every year of delay beyond 2020 brings a need for faster cuts, which become increasingly expensive, unlikely and impractical," the report states.

"Delays will also quickly put the 1.5C goal out of reach."

A 'Washington Post' analysis this year found that roughly 20pc of the world has already warmed to troubling levels. Slowing future warming will require monumental changes, such as phasing out gas-powered cars, halting the construction of coal-fired power plants and overhauling how humans grow food and manage land.

But the world's carbon emissions have moved in the opposite direction. The United States' energy-related CO2 emissions rose 2.7pc last year, after a gradual decline. That increase came as the Trump administration continues to roll back Obama-era climate regulations and made clear that the US, once a leader in pushing for climate action, will withdraw from the Paris accord in 2020.

Investment in renewable energy in the developing world also dropped significantly in 2018, according to an analysis released by BloombergNEF, which tracks worldwide energy trends.

At the same time, China's investment in clean energy projects dropped from $122bn (€110bn) in 2017 to $86bn (€78bn) in 2018. (© The Washington Post)

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