World hurtling towards climate danger zone
Warns new UN report; says brakes half-pulled
Berlin: Temperatures on Earth will shoot past a key danger point unless greenhouse gas emissions fall faster than countries have committed, the world's top body of climate scientists said on Monday, warning about the consequences of inaction but also noting hopeful signs of progress.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change revealed ''a litany of broken climate promises" by governments and corporations, accusing them of stoking global warming by clinging to harmful fossil fuels.
"It is a file of shame, cataloguing the empty pledges that put us firmly on track towards an unlivable world," he said.
Governments agreed in the 2015 Paris accord 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). Yet temperatures have already increased by over 1.1C (2F) since pre-industrial times, resulting in measurable increases in disasters such flash floods, prolonged droughts, more intense hurricanes and longer-burning wildfires, putting human lives in danger and costing governments hundreds of billions of dollars to confront.
"Projected global emissions from (national pledges) place limiting global warming to 1.5C beyond reach and make it harder after 2030 to limit warming to 2C," the panel said.
In other words, the report's co-chair, James Skea of Imperial College London, told The Associated Press: "If we continue acting as we are now, we're not even going to limit warming to 2 degrees, never mind 1.5 degrees.'' Ongoing investments in fossil fuel infrastructure and clearing large swaths of forest for agriculture undermine the massive curbs in emissions needed to meet the Paris goal, the report found.
"To keep the 1.5-degree limit agreed in Paris within reach, we need to cut global emissions by 45% this decade," said Guterres, the UN chief. "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 would require removing vast amounts of carbon dioxide — the main greenhouse gas — from the atmosphere. Many experts say this is unfeasible with current technologies, and even if it could be done it would be far costlier than preventing the emissions in the first place.
The report's authors said they had "high confidence" that unless countries step up their efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions, the planet will on average be 2.4C to 3.5C (4.3 to 6.3 F) warmer by the end of the century — a level experts say is sure to cause severe impacts for much of the world's population. "We are on a pathway to global warming of more than double the 1.5-degree limit agreed in Paris,'' said Guterres. "Some government and business leaders are saying one thing – but doing another.'' "Simply put, they are lying," he added. ''And the results will be catastrophic." Despite the tough words by Guterres and report co-chairs, the full report, numbering thousands of pages condensed into a summary by governments and scientists, doesn't single out individual countries for blame.
However, the figures show 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 emissions since then came from Europe and North America. Just over 12% can be attributed to East Asia, which includes China. The country took over the position as world's top emitter from the United States in the mid-2000s.
The report isn't without some hope, however. Its authors highlight myriad ways in which the world can be brought back on track to 2C or even, with great effort, return to 1.5C after that threshold has been passed. This could require measures such as the removal of CO2 from the atmosphere with natural or artificial means, but also potentially risky technologies such as pumping aerosols into the sky to reflect sunlight.
Among the solutions recommended are a rapid shift away from fossil fuels toward renewable energy such as solar and wind, the electrification of transport, more efficient use of resources and massive financial support for poor countries unable to pay for such measures without help. One move often described as "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 forged between the United States and China at last year's U.N. climate conference in Glasgow aims to do just that.