Slash emissions now or miss 1.5 degrees Celsius goal, UN warns

Slash emissions now or miss 1.5 degrees Celsius goal, UN warns

Drought climate change India
An Indian boatman walks amid boats on the dried bed of a lake at Nalsarovar Bird Sanctuary. (Photo: AFP/Sam Panthaky) 

PARIS: The world will miss its chance to avert climate disaster without an immediate and all-but-impossible fall in fossil fuel emissions, the UN said on Tuesday (Nov 26) in its annual assessment on greenhouse gases.

The United Nations Environment Programme said that global emissions need to fall by 7.6 per cent each year, every year until 2030 to limit global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

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The harsh reality is that emissions have risen on average 1.5 per cent annually over the last decade, hitting a record 55.3 billion tonnes of CO2 or equivalent greenhouse gases in 2018 - three years after 195 countries signed the Paris treaty on climate change.

The World Meteorological Organization said Monday that atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations hit an all-time record in 2018.

The Paris deal committed nations to limit temperature rises above pre-industrial levels to "well below" 2 degrees Celsius, and to a safer 1.5 degrees Celsius if at all possible.

To do so they agreed on the need to reduce emissions and work towards a low-carbon world within decades.

Yet the UN found that even taking into account current Paris pledges, the world is on track for a 3.2 degrees Celsius temperature rise, something scientists fear could tear at the fabric of society.

FILE PHOTO: People cool off in the Trocadero fountains across from the Eiffel Tower in Paris
FILE PHOTO: People cool off in the Trocadero fountains across from the Eiffel Tower in Paris as a new heatwave broke temperature records in France, July 25, 2019. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol/File Photo

Even if every country made good on its promises, Earth's "carbon budget" for a 1.5-degree Celsius rise - the amount we can emit to stay below a certain temperature threshold - would be exhausted within a decade.

In its own words, the UN assessment is "bleak".

While it insisted the 1.5-degrees Celsius goal is still attainable, it acknowledged that this would require an unprecedented, coordinated upheaval of a global economy that is still fuelled overwhelmingly by oil- and gas-fuelled growth.

"We are failing to curb greenhouse gas emissions," UNEP's executive director, Inger Andersen, told AFP.

"Unless we take urgent action now and make very significant cuts to global emissions we're going to miss the target of 1.5 degrees Celsius"

COST OF INACTION

The Emissions Gap report, now in its tenth year, also details the cost of a decade of government inaction.

Had serious climate action begun in 2010, just after the Copenhagen summit that breathed new life into the debate, annual needed emissions cuts would be 0.7 per cent for 2 degrees Celsius of warming and 3.3 per cent for 1.5 degrees Celsius.

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"10 years of climate procrastination has led us to where we are today," said Andersen.

The report highlighted specific "opportunities" for big emitters to push their economies into line with the Paris goals.

People cool off in the sea in Nice as a heatwave hits much of the country
FILE PHOTO: People cool off in the sea in Nice as a heatwave hits much of the country, France, June 27, 2019. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

While advice varies between countries, the theme is clear: Completely phase out coal, significantly pare back oil and gas, and dramatically build up renewable energy.

G20 nations were singled out as laggards: although they produce around 78 per cent of all emissions, only 15 rich nations have outlined plans to reach net-zero.

The Trump administration, meanwhile, notified the UN earlier this month that the US will pull out of the Paris treaty, and has taken steps to boost fossil fuel production, including subsidies for technology to capture and store CO2 emissions from power plants.

In all, countries must increase their contributions to the climate fight five-fold to deliver the cuts needed for 1.5 degrees Celsius.

'NO SIGN OF PEAK'

Last year the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - the world's leading scientific body on the subject - issued a stark warning that going beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius would increase the frequency and intensity of heatwaves, superstorms and mass flooding.

With just 1 degrees Celsius of warming so far, 2019 is projected to be the second hottest in human history, a year marred by deadly wildfires and cyclones rendered more frequent as temperatures climb.

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Australia has been hit by wildfires in recent months, which scientists say have been made worse by
Australia has been hit by wildfires in recent months, which scientists say have been made worse by climate change. (Photo: AFP/Rob Griffith)

And despite the need for urgent action, with global energy demand set to continue rising for years, the UN itself conceded Tuesday that "there is no sign of (greenhouse) gas emissions peaking in the next few years". 

That turning point should have come years ago, said Alden Meyer, director of policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

"We are not running out of time - we are already out of time," he told AFP.

The report said emissions would need to drop 55 per cent by 2030 to stay on a 1.5 degrees Celsius track - an unprecedented fall at a time of sustained global growth.

John Ferguson, director of country analysis at The Economist Intelligence Unity, said he was pessimistic that countries could undertake emissions cuts in the time required.

"There's the emissions gap but there's also the gap between rhetoric and action, and that gap explains my pessimism that we're not going to limit it to 1.5 degrees Celsius" he told AFP.

Source: AFP/ad

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