UNEP: ‘We are talking about transformational change now–incremental change simply will not make it’: Global emissions must fall by 7.6% a year for next decade

Fiona Harvey, The Guardian, Tue 26 Nov 2019

The plea to tackle emissions comes amid climate protests such as here in Hamburg, Germany, this month.
 The plea to tackle emissions comes amid climate protests such as here in Hamburg, Germany, this month. Photograph: Action Press/Rex/Shutterstock

Countries must make an unprecedented effort to cut their levels of greenhouse gases in the next decade to avoid climate chaos, the UN has warned, as it emerged that emissions hit a new high last year.

Carbon dioxide emissions in 2018, also accounting for deforestation, rose to more than 55 gigatonnes, and have risen on average by 1.5% a year for the past decade, according to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) annual emissions gap report.

Global emissions must fall by 7.6% every year from now until 2030 to stay within the 1.5C ceiling on temperature rises that scientists say is necessary to avoid disastrous consequences. The only time in recent history when emissions have fallen in any country at a similar rate came during the collapse of the Soviet Union. During the financial crisis and recession, emissions in the US and Japan fell briefly by about 6% but soon rebounded.

However, technologies such as renewable energy and electric vehicles are now available, and increasingly cheap, which could enable deep cuts in carbon without jeopardising economic growth.

John Christensen of the Technical University of Denmark, a co-author of the report, told the Guardian the cuts in emissions now required were “unprecedented”.

Postponing action could no longer be an option, said Inger Andersen, executive director of UNEP. “Our collective failure to act early and hard on climate change means we must now deliver deep cuts to emissions [of] over 7% each year, if we break it down evenly over the next decade. This shows that countries simply cannot wait.”

Without such urgent action the world’s fate would be sealed within the next few years as carbon would rise to such a level as to make dangerous levels of warming inevitable, she said. “We need quick wins to reduce emissions as much as possible in 2020, then stronger [commitments under the Paris agreement] to kickstart the major transformations of economies and societies. We need to catch up on the years in which we procrastinated.”

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The escalating heatwaves, droughts and extreme storms being seen across the world demonstrated the effects of failing to cut emissions fast enough, said Kelly Levin of the World Resources Institute, who joined the UN call for action. “While there have been examples of rapid change in specific technologies or sectors, there is no precedent in our documented history for the rate of change at the scale required for limiting warming to 1.5C [above pre-industrial levels]. We have never before witnessed such widespread rapid transitions, and they will need to be made across energy, land, industrial, urban and other systems. Achieving 1.5C will require unprecedented transformative efforts by all.”

Rana Adib, the executive secretary of the renewable energy thinktank REN21, said: “Fossil-fuel-centred economies make it difficult for national governments to put climate concerns front and centre, with the result that globally we are not on track to meet the Paris agreement.” “This truth is hard to face. The emissions gap report shows the harsh reality: countries collectively fail to stop growth in greenhouse gas emissions. We have the necessary means to pursue the energy transition. What we need is the political and institutional will to make the transition a reality.”

Next year, governments are expected to make new commitments to cut greenhouse gases substantially by 2030, as part of the 2015 Paris agreement. Officials and ministers will meet in Madrid next week to clear the way for a crunch meeting a year from now in Glasgow, where the gap between countries’ current emissions pledges and scientific estimates of what cuts are needed will be addressed.

Current pledges under the Paris agreement are deemed inadequate; if countries stick to them next year, they would have to reduce emissions to zero from 2030 to avoid raising temperatures by more than 1.5C. For that reason, Andersen urged nations not to wait to enshrine new commitments, but to take immediate action.

UNEP has been reporting on the “emissions gap” between countries’ pledges and the cuts needed since the Paris agreement was signed in 2015, but rising emissions in the meantime have made the situation even more urgent. Last year’s landmark scientific assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change revealed the ravages that would result from a 1.5C rise above pre-industrial levels, including the near-total extinction of coral reefs, and extreme weather around the world.

The current pledges made by countries under the Paris agreement would cause temperature rises of about 3.2C this century, according to scientific estimates.Topics

Countries are not doing enough to keep Earth’s temperature from rising to near-catastrophic levels, a UN report says. CNN: “A new United Nations report paints a bleak picture: The commitments countries pledged to limit the climate crisis are nowhere near enough to stave off record-high temperatures. Delaying change any further will make it impossible to reach desired temperature goals. The time for ‘rapid and transformational’ change to limit global warming is now, the report says. The UN Environment Program (UNEP) 2019 Emissions Gap report calls on countries to strengthen the commitments made in the 2015 Paris Agreement to stall climate change. Current measures will not keep global temperature increases within the 1.5-to-2-degree Celsius range (a “safe” level to which temperatures can rise and not cause devastation, though 1.5 degrees is preferable), according to the report issued Tuesday. Greenhouse gases reached a record high in 2018 with no sign of peaking, according to a World Meteorological Organization report released Monday. Carbon dioxide levels reached 407.8 parts per million, a unit used to measure the level of a contaminant in the air. At the current rate, temperatures are expected to rise 3.2 degrees Celsius (5.8 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100, the UNEP report states. The changes the UNEP suggests are extreme: To get Earth back on track to the 1.5-degree goal, countries must multiply their commitment level, or the level at which they pledge to reduce their emissions, five times the current rates outlined in the Paris accords. That means global greenhouse gas emissions must fall at least 7.6% every year to remove 32 gigatons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Incremental change is no longer enough to stall off the potentially devastating effects of a changing climate, the report’s authors write. What the world needs now, they say, is ‘rapid and transformational action.’”