UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report revealed “a litany of broken climate promises” by governments and corporations, accusing them of stoking global warming by clinging to harmful fossil fuels.
“It’s a record of shame, cataloging the empty promises that put us firmly on the path to an unlivable 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). Yet temperatures have already risen more than 1.1 C (2 F) since pre-industrial times, leading to a measurable increase in disasters such as flash floods, extreme heat, more intense hurricanes and fires. longer, putting human lives at risk and costing governments hundreds of euros. billions of dollars to contend with.
“Projected global emissions from (national commitments) place limiting global warming to 1.5°C out of reach and make it harder after 2030 to limit warming to 2°C,” the panel said.
In other words, the report’s co-chair, James Skea of Imperial College London, told The Associated Press: “If we keep doing what we’re doing now, we’re not even going to limit global warming. to 2 degrees, let alone 1.5 degrees.”
Ongoing investments in fossil fuel infrastructure and the clearing of large swaths of forest for agriculture are undermining the massive emissions reductions needed to meet the Paris target, the report said.
Emissions in 2019 were about 12% higher than they were in 2010 and 54% higher than in 1990, Skea said.
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The growth rate has slowed from 2.1% per year at the start of this century to 1.3% per year between 2010 and 2019, according to the report’s authors. But they expressed “high confidence” that unless countries step up efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the planet will average 2.4-3.5°C (4, 3 to 6.3°F) warmer by the end of the century – a level experts say is certain to have serious consequences for much of the world’s population.
“To limit warming to 1.5°C, global greenhouse gas emissions must peak by 2025 at the latest and be reduced by 43% by 2030,” he said.
Such reductions would be difficult to achieve without drastic economy-wide measures, the panel acknowledged. The world is more likely to exceed 1.5°C and efforts will then have to be made to bring temperatures down again, including removing large amounts of carbon dioxide – the main greenhouse gas – from the atmosphere.
Many experts say this is not feasible with current technologies, and even if it could be done, it would cost far more than preventing emissions in the first place.
The report, which runs to thousands of pages, does not blame specific countries.
However, the figures show that much of the carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere was released by the rich countries that were the first to burn coal, oil and gas when the industrial revolution really started in the 1850s.
The UN panel said around 40% of emissions since then have come from Europe and North America. Just over 12% can be attributed to East Asia, which includes China. The country took the place of the world’s largest emitter since the United States in the mid-2000s.
Many countries and companies have taken advantage of recent climate meetings to paint an optimistic picture of their efforts to reduce emissions, while continuing to invest in fossil fuels and other polluting activities, warned António Guterres.
“Some government and business leaders say one thing – but do another,” he said. “Put simply, they are lying. And the results will be catastrophic.”
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The report is not without hope, however.
Its authors highlight a myriad of ways the world can be brought back on track at 2C or even, with great effort, back to 1.5C after that threshold has been crossed. This could require measures such as removing CO2 from the atmosphere by natural or artificial means, but also potentially risky technologies such as pumping aerosols into the sky to reflect sunlight.
Among the recommended solutions are a rapid shift from fossil fuels to renewable energies such as increasingly cheaper solar and wind power, electrification of transport, less meat consumption, more efficient use of resources and support financial support to poor countries unable to pay for such measures without aid.
The situation is as if humanity had “gone to the doctor in a very unhealthy state”, and the doctor said “you have to change, it’s a drastic change. If you don’t, you’re in trouble”, said report co-author Pete Smith, professor of soils and global change at the University of Aberdeen.
“It’s not like a diet,” Smith said. “It’s a fundamental lifestyle change. It changes what you eat, how much you eat, and adopt a more active lifestyle.”
A move often described as “low-hanging fruit” by scientists is plugging 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 United Nations climate conference in Glasgow aims to do just that.
“You can see the early signs that the actions people are taking are starting to make a difference,” said Skea, co-chair of the panel.
“The big message we have (is that) human activities got us into this problem and human action can actually get us out of it again,” he said.
The panel’s reports have become increasingly blunt since the first was published in 1990, and the latest could be the last before the planet passes 1.5C in warming, Skea told the AP.
Last August, he said man-made climate change was “an established fact” and warned that some effects of global warming were already unavoidable. In late February, the panel released a report outlining how further temperature increases will multiply the risk of floods, storms, droughts and heat waves around the world.
Yet former UK government chief scientific adviser David King, who was not involved in writing the report, said there are optimistic assumptions about how much CO2 the world can afford. emit.
The UN panel suggests there is still a “carbon budget” of 500 billion metric tons (550 billion US tons) that can be emitted before the 1.5C threshold is reached.
“We don’t really have a carbon budget left to burn,” said King, who now chairs the Climate Crisis Advisory Group.
“It’s just the other way around. We’ve already done too much to increase greenhouse gases,” he said, saying the IPCC’s calculation omits new risks and potentially self-reinforcing effects that are self-reinforcing. are already occurring in some places, such as increased heat absorption in the oceans due to loss of sea ice and release of methane as permafrost melts, he said.
These warnings were echoed by UN chief Guterres, citing scientists’ warnings that the planet is “dangerously approaching tipping points that could lead to cascading and irreversible climate impacts”.
“But governments and high-emitting companies are not just turning a blind eye, they are adding fuel to the flames,” he said, calling for an end to coal, oil and gas extraction. of gas which, according to the report, may have to be abandoned anyway. , resulting in losses of billions of dollars.
“Investing in new fossil fuel infrastructure is moral and economic folly,” said António Guterres.
Vulnerable nations said the report showed big polluters needed to step up.
“We look to the G-20, to the world’s largest emitters, to set ambitious targets ahead of COP27, and to achieve those targets – investing in renewable energy, removing coal and fossil fuel subsidies “said Tina Stege, climate envoy. for the Marshall Islands. “It is high time to keep the promises made.”
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