U.N.: Hurry up on climate action or we’re screwed!
World, don’t lose heart, but you really need to hustle.
That’s the message from the United Nations as international climate delegates prepare to launch into a new round of negotiations next week aimed at cutting global greenhouse gas emissions.
The world agreed in 2009 to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.7 Fahrenheit, above preindustrial levels. But a report released Tuesday by the U.N. Environment Program reminds us that we’re not on track to meet that goal — not even close.
Even if all the pledges made to date by various governments to reduce their emissions are fulfilled, the report warns that temperature rise would still overshoot the 2-degree goal. That’s not to say it would be impossible to meet the goal, but a serious sense of urgency would be required.
The report focuses on the “emissions gap” — the difference between anticipated and needed emissions cuts. From a UNEP press release:
Even if nations meet their current climate pledges, greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 are likely to be 8 to 12 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent (GtCO2e) above the level that would provide a likely chance of remaining on the least-cost pathway.
If the gap is not closed or significantly narrowed by 2020, the door to many options to limit temperature increase to a lower target of 1.5° C will be closed, further increasing the need to rely on faster energy-efficiency improvements and biomass with carbon capture and storage.
The report authors suggest initiatives that could keep warming within 2 degrees:
- Massively and urgently boost energy efficiency — that could reduce annual emissions by 2 GtCO2e by the year 2020.
- Stop subsidizing fossil fuels — that could reduce emissions by 0.4 to 2 GtCO2e.
- Curb releases of methane and other short-lived climate pollutants — that could reduce emissions by 0.6 to 1.1 GtCO2e.
- Continue to foster the development and deployment of renewable energy — that could reduce emissions by 1 to 3 GtCO2e.
- Overhaul the agricultural sector, which is directly responsible for 11 percent of the world’s emissions — that could reduce emissions by 1.1 to 4.3 GtCO2e.
If you add up the best-case scenarios using those five strategies, you get an annual emissions reduction of 12.4 gigatonnes by 2020 — more than enough to get us on track to meet the goal of limiting warming by 2 degrees Celsius.
Actually doing that, of course, is another matter altogether.