World’s Emissions Gap Is Growing, with No Sign of Peaking Soon, UN Warns

'We need to catch up on the years in which we procrastinated,' said UNEP's Inger Andersen. 'If we do not do this, the 1.5°C goal will be out of reach before 2030.'

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Power plant. Credit: David McNew/Getty Images
Under the Paris climate agreement, countries pledged to keep global warming under 2°C. But their current promises of emissions cuts would still lead to about 3.2°C (5.8°F) of warming by the end of the century, the 2019 UN Emissions Gap Report says. Credit: David McNew/Getty Images

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A new United Nations report lays bare the yawning gap between the sharp cuts in emissions required to meet the goals of the Paris climate accord and current projections, concluding that the window is closing to prevent the worst effects of damaging climate change.

The definitive annual assessment of global climate pledges found “no sign” that levels of emissions in the atmosphere would peak soon, despite the fact that meeting the Paris goals requires global emissions reductions of at least 2.7 percent each year for the next decade.

The Paris accord of 2015 aims to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6°F), with efforts to keep it below 1.5°C (2.7°F), in order to limit the worst impacts of climate change. Yet existing pledges are so inadequate that they correspond to about 3.2°C (5.8°F) of warming by the end of the century, the Emissions Gap Report published Tuesday said.

“We need to catch up on the years in which we procrastinated,” said Inger Andersen, executive director of the UN Environment Program. “If we do not do this, the 1.5°C goal will be out of reach before 2030.”


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To be on track for 2°C of warming, the report said, emissions in 2030 would need to be 25 percent lower than today.

To limit warming to 1.5°C, emissions would need to be slashed by 55 percent. Last year, global carbon dioxide emissions rose 1.7 percent.

“Every year that action is delayed, emissions reductions need to be steeper,” said Joeri Rogelj, climate change lecturer at Imperial College London and an author of the report. This is the 10th year in a row that the UN has released an emissions gap report. “It is really the accumulation of bad news every year.”

Confirmation that rising emissions are putting existing global goals further out of reach came on the eve of the COP 25 climate summit that begins in Madrid on Monday.

The meeting will be the first big climate gathering since President Donald Trump began the process of withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement. Brazil’s president has also questioned the deal’s relevance.

Chart: The Fossil Fuel Production Gap

New data from the World Meteorological Organization published on Monday showed that global average concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rose to 407.8 parts per million in 2018, up from 405.5 parts per million in 2017.

The increase is the result of man-made carbon dioxide emissions, primarily from burning fossil fuels. Another UN report last week showed that if the world’s top fossil fuel-producing nations follow through on their current plans, they will produce about 50 percent more oil, gas and coal by 2030 than would be compatible with the international goal of keeping global warming under 2°C, and two times more than would be allowable to stay under 1.5°C.

Greenhouse gas emissions have risen 1.5 percent each year on average over the past decade, despite a slight levelling off during 2014-16.

“There is no sign of a slowdown, let alone a decline, in greenhouse gases concentration in the atmosphere despite all the commitments under the Paris agreement,” said Petteri Taalas, secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization.

“It is worth recalling that the last time the Earth experienced a comparable concentration of CO2 was 3 to 5 million years ago,” he added. “Back then, the temperature was 2 to 3°C warmer, and sea level was 10 to 20 meters higher than now.”

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