World on track for ‘hellish’ 2.9C of warming by end of century, UN warns

The UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) latest annual emissions gap report concludes that the world is on track for a temperature rise far above the levels set out in the Paris Agreement due to historic and ongoing failures in reducing emissions.

By the UNEP’s calculations, global emissions increased by 1.2% year-on-year in 2022 to an all-time high of 57.4 gigatonnes of CO2e.

A slight reduction of 3%, to around 55 gigatonnes, is forecast through to 2030 provided that nations implement the policies they have committed to under their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) to the Paris Agreement.

This is far short of the Paris Agreement’s pathways. Its 2C pathway would require a 28% reduction in annual global emissions by 2030; the 1.5C pathway would require a 42% reduction this decade.

Keeping 1.5C within reach would now require more than an 8.5% reductions in emissions year-on-year, every year, for the rest of the decade. For context, a reduction of around 4.5% year-on-year occurred in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The UNEP’s conclusion is that the world is on track for 2.9C or 3C of warming by 2100, against a pre-industrial-revolution baseline. This could be reduced to 2.5C if NDC commitments which are contingent on the provision of additional international support such as finance are implemented.

Climate scientists have warned that any warming beyond the 1.5C point would be catastrophic for some ecosystems and for a significant portion of the human population.

A report produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) earlier this year stated that warming of 2.8C or more would risk an ‘unliveable’ future for 3.3 billion people. This would be due to a combination of flooding, high temperatures and a lack of access to water and/or food.

Even at 2C, the IPCC has forecast, 99% of coral reefs would be lost and the majority of insects will face habitat loss and degradation, putting the pollination of plants at risk.

In terms of human impact, the IPCC estimates that sea-level rise would put 10 million more people at risk at 2C than at 1.5C. Moreover, marine fisheries would lose twice as much stock.

UNEP executive director Inger Andersen said: “There is no person or economy left on the planet untouched by climate change, so we need to stop setting unwanted records on emissions, temperature and extreme weather. We must instead lift the needle out of the same old groove of insufficient action, and start setting other records: on cutting emissions and on climate finance.”

The report states that the possibility of meeting the Paris Agreement now hinges on “relentlessly strengthening” climate mitigation efforts this decade.

Fossil fuel expansion plans

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has urged nations to “tear out the poisoned root of the climate crisis – fossil fuels”.

From 30 November, representatives of most countries will convene in Dubai for this year’s annual UN-convened climate summit, COP28.

Doubts remain about whether negotiators will be able to reach a strong agreement on fossil fuels; despite a strong global appetite to rapidly scale clean energy, this is the second COP in a row held in an oil and gas exporting nation and some delegations – including the UK’s – are emboldened to back an agreement using carbon capture as a loophole.

The UNEP revealed earlier this month that state-owned companies and energy giants are collectively set to produce more than double the level of fossil fuels in 2030 than the limit that would be needed to keep 1.5C within reach.

COP28 host the UAE is among the nations with major fossil fuel expansion plans, along with India (coal) and the US, Brazil and Saudi Arabia (oil and gas).

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