Huge carbon emissions cuts, cuts needed – but not delivered, says UN climate report

Temperatures on Earth will exceed a key danger point unless greenhouse gas emissions fall faster than countries have pledged, the world’s top body of climate scientists said on Monday, warning of the consequences of inaction but also noting encouraging signs of progress.

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.

What countries have agreed to do on climate

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, prolonged droughts, more intense hurricanes and wildfires more long, endangering human lives and costing governments hundreds of dollars. billions of dollars to contend with.

“Projected global emissions of [national pledges] place limiting global warming to 1.5°C out of reach and making it harder after 2030 to limit warming to 2°C,” the panel said.

In other words, report co-chairman 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. at 2 degrees, let alone 1.5 degrees.”

Carbon cuts, deletions needed to stay under 1.5C limit

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.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in a photo from March 14, 2022. On Monday, he called the UN’s latest climate report a “file of shame, cataloging the empty promises that put us firmly on the way to an unlivable world”. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

“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 commitments would mean a 14% increase in emissions.”

In a summary negotiated with governments over the past two weeks, the expert group concluded that returning warming to 1.5°C by 2100 would require removing large amounts of carbon dioxide – the main greenhouse gases – 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.

Warming on track for 2.4C to 3.5C by 2100

The report’s authors said they had “high confidence” that unless countries step up their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the planet will average 2.4 to 3.5 C (4.3 to 6.3 F) warmer by the end of the century – a level experts say this will certainly have serious repercussions for much of the world’s population.

“We are on track for global warming of more than double the 1.5 degree limit agreed in Paris,” said António Guterres. “Some government and business leaders say one thing, but do another.”

“Put simply, they are lying,” he added. “And the results will be catastrophic.”

Which countries emitted the most carbon

Despite the harsh words of Guterres and the report’s co-chairs, the full report, which is thousands of pages condensed into a summary by governments and scientists, does not blame specific countries.

Construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline is underway in Kamloops, British Columbia, September 1, 2020. Ongoing investments in fossil fuel infrastructure are undermining the massive emissions reductions needed to meet the Paris target, according to the new IPCC report. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

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.

Possible solutions bring hope

The report is not without hope, however.

Its authors highlight myriad ways to get the world back on track at 2°C or even, with great effort, back to 1.5°C once that threshold is 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 solar and wind, electrification of transport, more efficient use of resources and massive financial support to poor countries unable to afford such measures. without help.

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.

Solar panels are installed at a floating photovoltaic power station on a lake in Haltern, Germany, April 1, 2022. The IPCC report recommends a rapid shift from fossil fuels to renewable energies like solar and wind. (Martin Meissner/Associated Press)

“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.

The report may be too optimistic about the global carbon budget

Yet former UK government chief science 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 500 billion tonne “carbon budget” 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 happening 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.

Such 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 G20, 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 to the Marshall Islands. “It is high time to keep the promises made.”