New report makes it clear procrastination is no longer an option in addressing climate change

Policy Watch has written extensively this year about efforts by utility companies, elected officials and even coastal communities to address the growing threats posed by climate change.

But a new study released Tuesday from the United Nations suggests countries have not done nearly enough to lower global greenhouse gas emissions, and we all face dire consequences with further procrastination. Here’s more on the findings in the Washington Post:

Amid that growing pressure to act, Tuesday’s U.N. report offers a grim assessment of how off-track the world remains. Global temperatures are on pace to rise as much as 3.9 degrees Celsius (7 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century, according to the United Nations’ annual “emissions gap” report, which assesses the difference between the world’s current path and the changes needed to meet the goals of the 2015 Paris climate accord.

As part of that deal, world leaders agreed to hold warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius compared with preindustrial levels; the current trajectory is nearly twice that.

Should that pace continue, scientists say, the result could be widespread, catastrophic effects: Coral reefs, already dying in some places, would probably dissolve in increasingly acidic oceans. Some coastal cities, already wrestling with flooding, would be constantly inundated by rising seas. In much of the world, severe heat, already intense, could become unbearable.

Global greenhouse gas emissions must begin falling by 7.6 percent each year beginning 2020 — a rate currently nowhere in sight — to meet the most ambitious aims of the Paris climate accord, the report issued early Tuesday found. Its authors acknowledged that the findings are “bleak.” After all, the world has never demonstrated the ability to cut greenhouse gas emissions on such a scale.
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“Our collective failure to act early and hard on climate change means we now must deliver deep cuts to emissions,” Inger Andersen, executive director of the U.N. Environment Program, said in a statement announcing the findings. “We need to catch up on the years in which we procrastinated.”

The sobering report comes at a critical moment, when it remains unclear whether world leaders can summon the political will to take the ambitious action scientists say is essential. So far, the answer has been no.

Global emissions have risen about 1.5 percent annually on average over the past decade. In the coming decade, that trend must reverse — profoundly and rapidly — if world leaders are to limit the Earth’s warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) or even 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) compared with preindustrial levels, scientists say.

The world already has warmed more than 1 degree Celsius.

Tuesday’s report, which is viewed as the benchmark of the world’s progress in meeting its climate goals, underscores how the pledges that nations made years ago in Paris are woefully inadequate to achieving the goals of the accord. To hold warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius, the authors found that countries would need to triple the ambition of their current promises. To hit the more ambitious target of no more than 1.5 degrees of warming, they found, nations would need to ramp up their pledges fivefold.

“Every year of delay beyond 2020 brings a need for faster cuts, which become increasingly expensive, unlikely and impractical,” the report states. “Delays will also quickly put the 1.5C goal out of reach.”

A Washington Post analysis this year found that roughly 20 percent of the world has already warmed to troubling levels. Slowing future warming will require monumental changes, such as phasing out gas-powered cars, halting the construction of coal-fired power plants and overhauling how humans grow food and manage land.

Click here to read the full article in the Post.

Click here to read the full annual Emissions Gap Report (or here for a shorter executive summary).

For more environmental reporting in North Carolina, please follow Lisa Sorg on Policy Watch.

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