The world is racing into a climate danger zone, a key report warns, while the UN chief chides leaders for “lying” about the effort
Temperatures on Earth will soar past a key danger point if greenhouse gas emissions don’t fall faster than countries have committed to, the world’s leading group of climate scientists said on Monday, warning of the consequences of inaction but also offering hopeful signs of progress fixed.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report reveals “a litany of broken climate promises” by governments and companies and accused them of fomentingby sticking to harmful fossil fuels.
“It is an act of shame to catalog the empty promises that have set us firmly on the path to an uninhabitable world,” he said.
Governments agreed in the 2015 Paris Agreement to keep global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) this century, ideally no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit). But temperatures have already risen by more than 1.1°C (2°F) since pre-industrial times, leading to a measurable increase in disasters such as flash floods, prolonged droughts, stronger hurricanes and longer-burning wildfires that are putting lives at risk and governments facing hundreds of costs costing billions of dollars.
“Projected global emissions from (national pledges) put limiting global warming to 1.5°C out of reach and making it more difficult to limit warming to 2°C after 2030,” the panel said.
In other words, the report’s co-chair, James Skea of Imperial College London, told The Associated Press: “If we carry on as we have been, we will not even limit warming to 2 degrees, let alone 1.5 degrees . “
Ongoing investment in fossil fuel infrastructure and clearing of large tracts of forest for agriculture is undermining the massive emissions cuts needed to meet the Paris target, the report says.
“To keep the 1.5-degree limit agreed in Paris within reach, we need to cut global emissions by 45 percent this decade,” said UN chief Guterres. “But current climate pledges would mean a 14% increase in emissions.”
In a summary negotiated with governments over the past two weeks, the panel concluded that returning warming to 1.5C by 2100 will require removing large amounts of carbon dioxide – the main greenhouse gas – from the atmosphere would. Many experts say this is not feasible with current technologies, and even if it were possible, it would be far more expensive than preventing emissions in the first place.
The report’s authors said they were “very confident” that the planet will be an average of 2.4 to 3.5 °C (4.3 to 6.3 °F) warmer by the end of the century if the Countries failing to step up their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — a experts say is certain to have severe impacts on much of the world’s population.
“We are on track for global warming to more than double the 1.5 degree limit agreed in Paris,” Guterres said. “Some government and business leaders say one thing – but do another.”
“Put simply, they lie,” he added. “And the results will be disastrous.”
Despite harsh words from Guterres and the report’s co-chairs, the full report, which spans thousands of pages condensed into a summary by governments and academics, does not blame individual countries.
But the numbers show that much of the carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere was released by rich countries that were the first to burn coal, oil and gas when the Industrial Revolution really got going in the 1850s.
The UN panel said about 40% of the emissions have come from Europe and North America since then. East Asia, which includes China, accounts for just over 12%. In the mid-2000s, the country took over from the United States as the world’s largest emitter.
However, the report is not without hope.
Its authors point out myriad ways the world can be brought back to 2°C or even return to 1.5°C at great expense after crossing that threshold. This could require measures like removing CO2 from the atmosphere by natural or artificial means, but also potentially risky technologies like pumping aerosols into the sky to reflect sunlight.
The recommended solutions include a rapid switch from fossil fuels to renewable energies such as solar and wind, electrification of transport, more efficient use of resources, and massive financial support for poor countries that cannot afford such measures unaided.
One move often dubbed “low-hanging fruit” by scientists is to plug methane leaks from mines, wells and landfills that release the potent but short-lived greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. A pact between the United States and China struck at last year’s UN climate change conference in Glasgow aims to do just that.
“You’re seeing the early signs that people’s actions are starting to make a difference,” said Skea, co-chair of the panel.
“The big message we have is that human activity got us into this problem and human activity can actually get us out of it,” he said.
The panel’s reports have become increasingly blunt since the first was published in 1990, and the latest may be the last before the planet undergoes 1.5C of warming, Skea told AP.
Last August it said human-caused climate change was “a proven fact” and warned that some effects of global warming were already inevitable. In late February, the panel released a report outlining how further increases in temperature will multiply the risk of floods, storms, droughts and heat waves around the world.
Still, former UK government chief scientific adviser David King, who was not involved in preparing the report, said there were optimistic assumptions about how much CO2 the world could afford.
The UN panel suggests there is still a “carbon budget” of 500 billion tons (550 billion US tons) that can be emitted before the 1.5C threshold is reached.
“We don’t actually have a carbon budget left to burn,” said King, who now chairs the Climate Crisis Advisory Group.
“It’s just the opposite. We’ve already done too much to push greenhouse gases up,” he said, arguing that the IPCC’s calculation left out new risks and potentially self-reinforcing effects that are already occurring in some places, such as increased Absorption of heat into the oceans from sea ice loss and the release of methane as permafrost melts, he said.
Such warnings were echoed by UN chief Guterres, who cited warnings from scientists that the planet is “moving dangerously close to tipping points that could result in cascading and irreversible climate impacts.”
“But governments and companies with high emissions aren’t just turning a blind eye, they’re adding fuel to the fire,” he said, calling for an end to further coal, oil and gas exploration, which the report said might have to shut down anyway, leading to losses in the trillions.
“Investing in new fossil fuel infrastructure is moral and economic madness,” Guterres said.
Vulnerable nations said the report shows big polluters need to step up their efforts.
“We expect the G-20, the world’s largest emitters, to set ambitious targets ahead of COP27 and deliver on those targets – by investing in renewable energy and removing subsidies for coal and fossil fuels,” said Climate Commissioner Tina Stege for the Marshall Islands. “It’s long past time to keep the promises we’ve made.”