On Tuesday, the U.N. released its annual report card on climate change. The bad news is we’re failing to address the biggest problem facing humanity. The good news? There’s so much room to improve! — and cities and businesses could help pick up the slack.
First, our failing marks: After a three-year plateau, global emissions are rising again “with no signs of peaking,” according to the report. Countries aren’t hitting their Paris goals. In fact, we’re failing at those goals to such a degree that we are making the climate problem worse at an accelerating rate.
And, even if we hit our current targets, it wouldn’t be enough. Factoring in the most ambitious stated climate goals of every nation on Earth, we are still on track for emissions to keep rising beyond 2030. If you’ll recall, the recent IPCC report found that global emissions need to be half their current levels by that year for a shot at keeping warming below catastrophic levels. The U.N. report found that the countries of the world would need to increase the carbon-cutting power of climate policies five-fold in order to meet that goal of 1.5 degrees C warming.
So yeah, the gap between what we’re actually doing and what we need to be doing is at its widest point in history (the report includes a truly stunning interactive visualization of this problem).
The report is sure to be on leaders’ minds as they gather in Katowice, Poland, next week for the 24th annual U.N. climate meeting. The U.N.’s chief climate official, Patricia Espinosa, called the crucial meetings “Paris 2.0” to emphasize the agenda of finalizing the rulebook that will govern commitments made three years ago in the French capital.
Taking a closer look at the report offers a few glimmers of hope. Cities and states could be the driving force to close the “ambition gap,” and there are clear signs that’s already underway, at least here in the United States. The report found that “non-state actors” — anyone besides national governments — could play an extremely important role, especially in countries with obstructionist national governments (cough, cough the U.S.).
An impressive 7,000 cities from 133 countries and 6,000 companies with at least $36 trillion in revenue have now vowed to take action on climate. But there’s so much more that could happen. Those impressive numbers represent just 20 percent of global population and only about 1 percent of all publicly traded companies.
“If international cooperative initiatives are scaled up to their fullest potential, the impact could be considerable” — and may alone be enough to prevent climate change beyond 2 degrees Celsius, according to one study the report cites.
“This year has seen some outstanding progress in the fight to protect the climate, with impressive commitments from cities, countries, and companies around the world,” the report concludes, “but the truth is, we need so much more.”
The report is the latest in a flurry of high-profile climate reports over the past several weeks which have helped re-establish the core message from scientists on our shared civilization-threatening challenge: We have no time to lose. This is a crucial time in history, and we only have one shot to get it right.