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Runaway global warming with catastrophic consequences is inevitable unless countries across the world agree to deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions

Levels of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have reached a record high (Photo by P.M. Juergen)

Levels of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have reached a record high (Photo by P.M. Juergen)

Global temperatures will rise by an average 3.2 degrees Celsius by the end of the century if countries continue to merely meet their commitments under the 2015 Paris Agreement, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) warned on Tuesday in its annual Emission Gap Report 2019. Such a rise will bring wider-ranging and more destructive climate impacts, UNEP said.

Global greenhouse gas emissions have to fall by 7.6% each year between 2020 and 2030 — or more than five times over current levels — if the world is to remain on track towards restraining average temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, the UNEP report said. In December 2015, governments from around the world had pledged in the Paris Agreement to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius, with an aspirational goal of limiting it to 1.5 degrees.

“Our collective failure to act early and hard on climate change means we now must deliver deep cuts to emissions,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP. “Countries simply cannot wait until the end of 2020, when new climate commitments are due, to step up action. They – and every city, region, business and individual – need to act now.”

The year 2020 is critical for climate action, with the scheduled UN climate change conference in Glasgow aiming to determine the future course of efforts to avert a crisis, and countries are expected to significantly step up their climate commitments. The UNEP report was released ahead of the 25th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP25) in Madrid next week.

The latest warning comes a day after the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) announced that levels of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have reached another new record high. Globally averaged concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) reached 407.8 parts per million in 2018, up from 405.5 parts per million (ppm) in 2017, according to the WMO Greenhouse Gas Bulletin released on November 25. The increase in CO2 from 2017 to 2018 was above the average growth rate over the last decade, WMO said.

No slowdown yet

“There is no sign of a slowdown, let alone a decline, in greenhouse gases concentration in the atmosphere despite all the commitments under the Paris Agreement on climate change,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. “It is worth recalling that the last time the Earth experienced a comparable concentration of CO2 was 3-5 million years ago. Back then, the temperature was 2-3 degrees Celsius warmer, (and) sea level was 10-20 metres higher than now.”

There are major benefits to limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, but doing so will need “rapid, far reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society,” the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in a special report last year. For this, global CO2 emissions have to reduce 45% by 2030 from the 2010 level and reach “net zero” by 2050, said the IPCC, the world’s premium collective of experts. See: Change world to control climate change

The targets by the world’s nations to rein in climate change need to be tripled if the rise in global temperatures is to be limited to 2 degrees Celsius compared with preindustrial times that was agreed upon in the Paris pact, the United in Science report had warned in September. It had said that present plans would see a rise in average temperatures of between 2.9 and 3.4 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, which is likely to lead to “catastrophic” climate change.

“Average global temperature for 2015-19 is on track to be the warmest of any equivalent period on record. It is currently estimated to be 1.1 degree Celsius above preindustrial (1850-900) times and 0.2 degree warmer than 2011-15,” the report said. “Observations show that global mean sea level rise is accelerating and an overall increase of 26% in ocean acidity since the beginning of the industrial era.”

Severe impacts

The 2018 IPCC report had said that going beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius will increase the frequency and intensity of climate impacts. G20 nations collectively account for 78% of all emissions, but only five G20 members have committed to a long-term zero emissions target, said the Emissions Gap Report 2019, which is now in its tenth edition.

Each year, the UNEP report assesses the gap between anticipated emissions in 2030 and levels consistent with the aims of the Paris Agreement. It found that greenhouse gas emissions have risen 1.5% per year over the last decade. Emissions in 2018, including from land-use changes such as deforestation, hit a new high of 55.3 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent.

In the short-term, developed countries will have to reduce their emissions quicker than developing countries, for reasons of fairness and equity, the UNEP report said. It also focussed on energy transition and the potential of efficiency in the use of materials, which can go a long way to closing the emissions gap. See: Rich nations must pay for climate loss and damage

Earlier this month, more than 11,000 scientists from 153 countries declared a climate emergency that could bring “untold suffering” if urgent action is not taken to conserve the earth’s biosphere. “We declare clearly and unequivocally that planet Earth is facing a climate emergency,” they said in a paper published in Bioscience Magazine on November 6.

Humanity needs to act swiftly “to sustain life on planet Earth, our only home,” the alliance of scientists, led by William Ripple and Christopher Wolf of Oregon State University, said in the paper titled World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency. “The climate crisis has arrived and is accelerating faster than most scientists expected. It is more severe than anticipated, threatening natural ecosystems and the fate of humanity.” See: why have scientists declared climate emergency?



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