That’s the word from this year’s report from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), published today.
The report, prepared by 55 scientists from 22 countries, says that greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 will be up to 14.33 billion tons above what’s needed to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius.
Climate scientists overwhelmingly agree that a global temperature rise of even two degrees would have catastrophic consequences for humans and all other animals. A global temperature rise of even two degrees would have catastrophic consequences for humans and all other animals.
This week, the World Bank warned that the world is, in fact, likely to warm by 3-4 degrees by the end of the century – a “new normal” temperature that will mean new extremes of weather in every region in the world.
The UNEP report shows that greenhouse gas emissions are already around 14 percent above where they would need to be by the end of the decade to avoid this catastrophe.
“These billions of tons of additional carbon dioxide in our atmosphere will remain there for centuries, causing our planet to warm further and impacting on all aspects of life on earth,” said World Meteorological Organization Secretary-General Michel Jarraud. “Future emissions will only compound the situation.”
One global business consultancy, Pricewaterhouse Coopers, has a report of its own, Too Late for Two Degrees?, saying that even two degrees is too much. And the companies’ researchers concluded that to have even a modest chance of staying within just the 2-degree threshold, the global economy would need to reduce overall carbon intensity by 5.1 percent every year for the next 40 years:
“Governments and businesses can no longer assume that a 2-degree Celsius warming world is the default scenario. Any investment in long-term assets or infrastructure, particularly in coastal or low-lying regions, needs to address more pessimistic scenarios. Sectors dependent on food, water, energy or ecosystem services need to scrutinize the resilience and viability of their supply chains.
“… Even doubling our current rate of decarbonization would still lead to emissions consistent with 6 degrees of warming by the end of the century. To give ourselves a more than 50 percent chance of avoiding 2 degrees will require a six-fold improvement in our rate of decarbonization.
“… Governments’ ambitions to limit warming to 2°C appear highly unrealistic.”
Another group, the International Energy Agency, argues in its annual World Energy Outlook that even if nations around the world fulfill their commitments or plans, energy-related emissions will still rise beyond all safe levels over the next two decades. We should expect a “long‐term average temperature increase of 3.6 degrees Celsius.”
How will we experience the effects of all this?
According to the World Bank, we should expect increasingly acidic oceans that will fundamentally alter the aquatic food chain; rapidly rising oceans; freshwater scarcity, diminished agricultural yields; and increased poverty in developing nations. We should also expect to see the disintegration of the West Antarctic ice sheet leading to more rapid sea-level rise, or large-scale Amazon dieback drastically affecting ecosystems, rivers, agriculture, energy production, and livelihoods. “Given the damage that one degree is doing, we’re already at ‘dire.’ We dearly don’t want to see what two degrees looks like, much less three.”
What should we do?
In 2010, countries agreed to limit temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. But most of them never followed up on this. And now the situation is worse, so the U.N. projections are that to have any meaningful effect, cuts of 25 to 40 percent of current emissions would be needed to limit temperature rise.
Will that happen? According to Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director and U.N. Under-Secretary General:
“The sobering fact remains that a transition to a low- carbon, inclusive green economy is happening far too slowly. And the opportunity for meeting the 44 billion metric tonne target is narrowing annually.”
Climate activist Bill McKibben says that even holding the temperature rise to two degrees is increasingly unlikely.
“It would take an incredible effort, but that’s what we’re trying to spur,” he said. “Given the damage that one degree is doing, we’re already at ‘dire.’ We dearly don’t want to see what two degrees looks like, much less three.”