'Economy-destroying levels of global heating'

| 27th October 2022 |

Crews worked night and day shifts in 2018 to suppress fires at Interstate 5 in northern California.

Jim Bartlett Team Rubicon/BLM for USFS
World heading for ‘climate catastrophe’ as countries’ plans fail to deliver – UN.

Only a root-and-branch transformation of our economies and societies can save us from accelerating climate disaster.

The world is heading for “climate catastrophe”, the UN has warned as a report showed how far off track nations are on cutting global warming pollution.

A UN Environment Programme (UNEP) report reveals a huge gap between the action needed to limit global temperature rises to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, and what countries are doing and have pledged to do.

Current climate policies put the world on track for warming of 2.8C and plans countries have set out for action in the next decade would lead to long-term temperature rises of 2.4-2.6C, which UN secretary general Antonio Guterres labelled as “economy-destroying levels of global heating”.

Extremes

The time for incremental changes is over, and “only a root-and-branch transformation of our economies and societies can save us from accelerating climate disaster,” UNEP executive director Inger Andersen warned.

This will require much faster changes to electricity supplies, industry, transport and buildings, the UNEP report said – as well as protection of natural landscapes, changes to diet and farming and cutting carbon from food supply chains.

The financial system must be reformed to provide investments of 4-6 trillion US dollars a year needed to enable the transformation, the report also stated.

Under the Paris climate treaty, agreed in 2015, countries said that they would take action to cut greenhouse gas emissions to limit global warming to well below 2C or 1.5C to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, and submit plans for how they were going to achieve their aims.

The world is already seeing increasing floods, storms, heatwaves and wildfires as a result of climate change, and beyond 1.5C of warming, more devastating weather extremes, crop damage and losses of key systems such as coral reefs are expected.

Emissions

To get on track for limiting warming to 1.5C and avoid the most dangerous climate extremes, annual emissions must be reduced by 45% in just eight years, and continue to decline rapidly after that, the UNEP report said, a major reversal of current rises in pollution.

Countries meeting at the UN Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow last year pledged to revisit and strengthen their national climate plans to keep the goal of limiting global temperature rises to 1.5C alive.

But the UNEP report said the new and updated climate plans submitted since Cop26 would reduce projected greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 by only 0.5 billion tonnes, or less than 1% of the total 58 billion tonnes of emissions expected under current policies.

Overall, climate plans – known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs) – are estimated to reduce global emissions in 2030 by between 5% and 10%, three to six billion tonnes, compared with policies currently in place.

That leaves a gap of 20-23 billion tonnes of extra emissions cuts in 2030 needed to meet the 1.5C goal and 12-15 billion tonnes to stay within the 2C limit.

Only a root-and-branch transformation of our economies and societies can save us from accelerating climate disaster.

Ecosystems

And countries are off track to achieve even their globally “highly insufficient” climate plans, warned the report, launched ahead of the latest international climate talks, Cop27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.

Ms Andersen said: “This report tells us in cold scientific terms what nature has been telling us, all year, through deadly floods, storms and raging fires: we have to stop filling our atmosphere with greenhouse gases, and stop doing it fast.

“We had our chance to make incremental changes, but that time is over. Only a root-and-branch transformation of our economies and societies can save us from accelerating climate disaster.”

She added: “It is a tall, and some would say impossible, order to reform the global economy and almost halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, but we must try.

“Every fraction of a degree matters: to vulnerable communities, to species and ecosystems, and to every one of us.”

Gap

Mr Guterres called for action by developed countries to lead in boosting their national climate plans, support for emerging economies to shift to renewables, and an end to the reliance on fossil fuels.

He urged multilateral banks – in particular the World Bank – to commit to greater climate action, and said the world could not “afford any more greenwashing, fake movers or late movers”.

“As today’s report makes clear, we are headed for economy-destroying levels of global heating. We need climate action on all fronts – and we need it now.

“We must close the emissions gap before climate catastrophe closes in on us all,” he said.

Flexitarian

There is hope, with full implementation of plans and additional long-term commitments, to cut emissions to zero overall leading to a 1.8C temperature rise but this is not currently credible given the gap between current emissions, targets for this decade and net-zero goals, the UNEP said.

Action that is needed to deliver the cuts ranges from removing fossil fuel subsidies and halting expansion of coal and gas plants, to setting mandates to switch to zero-emissions vehicles and implementing 100% renewables targets.

The food system accounts for one-third of all emissions and must make a “large reduction”, the report warned.

It pointed to a range of actions, including a switch to flexitarian, vegetarian and vegan diets, improvements in farming and managing soils, and reducing deforestation and the loss of peatlands, that could curb emissions.

This Author

Emily Beament is the PA Environment Correspondent.

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