The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has warned that current pledges under the Paris Agreement are woefully inadequate to prevent a catastrophic temperature rise of 2.5 to 2.9 °C above pre-industrial levels by the end of this century.
Without immediate action, the planet is on course for 2.9 °C or even 3 °C of warming by 2100, compared to pre-industrial levels. This alarming scenario could be marginally mitigated to 2.5 °C if all Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) were fully implemented, but only if promises of international support, such as financial assistance, are fulfilled.
This is the conclusion of the report, titled ‘Emissions Gap Report 2023: Broken Record’ which shares a troubling trend of rising greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, with global emissions increasing by 1.2% from 2021 to 2022, reaching an unprecedented high. Notably, emissions among G20 nations alone surged by 1.2% in 2022, reflecting a stark global disparity in climate action.
“Humanity is setting all the wrong records when it comes to climate change,” remarked Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP.
“Greenhouse gas emissions soared to new heights in 2022. In September 2023, global average temperatures were 1.8 °C above pre-industrial levels. This year is almost certain to be the warmest on record, according to the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service.”
Earlier this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) cautioned that warming of 2.8 °C or more would risk rendering the future “unliveable” for 3.3 billion people. This scenario would be driven by a combination of flooding, extreme heat, and water and food insecurity.
Even at 2 °C of warming, the IPCC projects that 99% of coral reefs would be lost, and the majority of insect species would face habitat loss and degradation, jeopardising plant pollination.
In terms of human impact, the IPCC estimates that sea-level rise would put an additional 10 million people at risk at 2 °C compared to 1.5 °C. Moreover, marine fisheries would lose twice as much stock.
To avert this and get back on track, the UNEP report urges a 28% reduction in 2030 emissions to achieve the 2 °C goal, with a 66% chance of success. For the 1.5 °C target, an even steeper 42% reduction is required.
Addressing fossil fuel reliance
The report emphasises the need for all nations to embark on economy-wide, low-carbon development transformations, with a particular focus on the energy transition. The carbon emissions from extracting and burning fossil fuels from existing and planned mines and fields would exceed the carbon budget available to limit warming to 1.5 °C by over 3.5 times and nearly exhaust the budget for 2 °C.
“We still have a chance to keep the 1.5 °C limit within reach. But it requires eliminating the root cause of the climate crisis: fossil fuels. And it demands a just and equitable transition to renewables,” stated António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations.
Fossil fuels are poised to take centre stage at the upcoming climate conference in Dubai later this month. However, this contentious topic, aptly described as “thorny” by COP28 president Sultan Al Jaber, is likely to be fraught with challenges, as many countries turn back to fossil fuels to bolster their energy security following the Ukraine war.
The first Global Stocktake (GST), concludes at COP28 and will guide the next round of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to be submitted in 2025. These NDCs will need to set ambitious targets for 2035 to bring greenhouse gas emissions in line with 2 °C and 1.5 °C pathways. Any excess emissions should be compensated for.
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