Earth is still hurtling toward climate chaos, report says
UN pressing countries to have more ambitious climate targets under Paris accord by Saturday
The world as a whole is dangerously behind schedule in slowing catastrophic climate change, and its richest people will have to make big changes in their everyday lives in order to shift course, a major United Nations report warned Wednesday.
But nearly five years after a landmark international climate agreement in Paris, there are signs of a sea change, including from some of the biggest polluters in the world.
The “undercurrent” of the global economy has shifted, said Christiana Figueres, a former UN diplomat who led the negotiations that yielded the Paris Agreement in 2015. “We are moving faster than we ever were,” she said in a call with reporters Wednesday.
Most of the world’s biggest emitters of planet-warming gases, including China, have promised to draw down their emissions to net-zero by midcentury. If those promises are kept (a big if ), the world would come very close to the Paris agreement’s goal of limiting temperature rise to the levels required to avert the worst climate disasters.
Much more of the world’s electricity, which used to come almost entirely from burning toxic fossil fuels like coal, is now coming from renewable sources, with the price of solar power having fallen far faster than expected. Lawmakers — including in big car markets like China, Britain and California — have announced an end to the sale of gaspowered cars in the next 10-15 years, spurring carmakers to roll out more electric vehicles.
Some of the world’s biggest investors are beginning to move their money out of fossil fuel industries, while the International Monetary Fund, hardly known for its environmental activism, said this year that green measures would help the recovery of the global economy.
All is not well, though. Far from it. The assessment published Wednesday by the United Nations Environment Program, the-11th annual Emissions Gap Report, found that greenhouse gas emissions continued to grow between 2010-19, by an average of 1.4 per cent a year, with a far sharper rise in 2019, in part because of emissions generated by wildfires, which are themselves exacerbated by a warming climate.
Emissions are expected to drop by about seven per cent in 2020, because of the economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the report found. But that would have what its authors called a “negligible” impact on the overall warming trend.
The average global temperature has increased already by 1 C since preindustrial times and is on course to rise by more than 3 C by the end of the century, according to the latest calculations.
While those numbers appear small, the increase in global averages is linked to record-breaking heat waves, widening wildfires and storms that bring devastatingly heavy rainfall.
The goal of the Paris accord is to limit average global temperature rise to well below 2 C, in order to have a good shot at averting the worst effects of climate change, like food insecurity and the inundation of coastal cities.
The pledges announced by countries are not enough to reach that goal, the UN report found.
What matters now is whether countries will sufficiently upgrade their climate targets and detail what they will do in the next 10 years, which are crucial, according to climate scientists.
China has said that it would start reducing emissions in the next decade and then rapidly reduce its emissions to netzero before 2060; it is expected to submit its revised national targets under the Paris Agreement soon.
The United Nations is pressing countries to announce more ambitious climate targets under the Paris accord by Saturday, when it convenes an online meeting of world leaders to mark the agreement’s fifth anniversary.
The pact can’t force any country to do anything about its own pollution trajectory. Rather, it leverages diplomatic peer pressure, with each country setting voluntary targets of its own to reduce the growth of emissions.
The report recommends, among other things, reducing, though not eliminating, fossil fuel subsidies, stopping the construction of new coal plants and restoring degraded forests.