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UN: Fossil Fuel Production Must Fall 6% to Meet Climate Goals

Climate change is increasingly damaging the U.N.'s most cherished heritage sites, a leading conservation agency warned Wednesday, reporting that Australia's Great Barrier Reef and dozens of other natural wonders are facing severe threats.

(CN) — The United Nations is warning the world must slow down fossil fuel production by 6% a year over the next decade if humanity hopes to stave off catastrophic damage from climate change.  

The report released Wednesday is part of an effort to understand where greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel production are predicted to be in 2030.

While acknowledging the uncertainty associated with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the U.N. says countries must reduce coal, oil and gas production by roughly 6% per year through 2030 in order to meet the 2015 Paris climate agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (34.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.

The U.N. expects global production to decrease by 7% this year because of the pandemic but predicted it would increase by 2% in 2021. 

“All indications are that, overall, governments are planning to expand fossil fuel production at a time when climate goals require that they wind it down,” the report states, adding a more thorough assessment will follow next year.

The report warned governments against using Covid-19 stimulus funds for fossil fuels and said economy recovery efforts should include a focus on achieving the 6% reduction goal.

“Governments that choose to invest in high-carbon industries to boost economies and safeguard livelihoods in the short term — perhaps because they see few near-term alternatives — can nonetheless introduce conditions to that investment to promote long-term alignment with climate goals,” it states.

While President Donald Trump has been clear about his reluctance to embrace clean energy – he tweeted global warming is a Chinese hoax in 2012 and just last year claimed wind turbines cause cancer – the incoming Biden administration has promised to make sincere efforts to address the issue in the US. 

A fact sheet on President-elect Joe Biden’s website says he’ll rejoin the Paris climate agreement, implement “aggressive” methane pollution limits for new and existing oil and gas operations, and develop higher fuel standards for cars and trucks. 

Biden has not thrown his support behind other proposals like a ban on fracking, a controversial gas production method, but has promised to make the U.S. carbon neutral by 2035.

A spokesperson for the American Petroleum Institute, a trade organization representing about 600 oil and natural gas companies, said its members fully support measures to move toward cleaner energy and lower emissions.

“We are committed to furthering this progress, advancing innovative technologies to address the risks of climate change while continuing to meet the world’s growing energy needs,” they said.

The report on fossil fuels comes as scientists at the U.N.’s World Meteorological Organization are calling 2020 “another extraordinary year for our climate” after the agency released its annual report on the state of the world’s climate.  

According to WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas, 2020 will likely join 2016 and 2019 as the top three hottest years on record, with this year being the second warmest after 2016, though it could still surpass both with less than 30 days left. 

“We saw new extreme temperatures on land, sea and especially in the Arctic. Wildfires consumed vast areas in Australia, Siberia, the US West Coast and South America, sending plumes of smoke circumnavigating the globe,” Taalas said in a statement. “We saw a record number of hurricanes in the Atlantic, including unprecedented back-to-back category 4 hurricanes in Central America in November. Flooding in parts of Africa and South East Asia led to massive population displacement and undermined food security for millions.”

He noted the average global temperature for 2020 is expected to be about 1.2 degrees Celsius (34.16 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. He said that number could top 1.5 degrees Celsius – the limit laid out in the Paris agreement – as soon as 2024.  

As if the combined warnings of the two U.N. reports wasn’t enough, a third report released Wednesday from the International Union for Conservation of Nature found that about one-third of designated world heritage sites are threatened by climate change. 

“Natural world heritage sites are amongst the world’s most precious places, and we owe it to future generations to protect them,” IUCN Director General Bruno Oberle said in a statement.

The report says 83 of the 252 world heritage sites are facing climate-related threats. Oberle pointed to Australia's Great Barrier Reef, ravaged by ocean warming, acidification and extreme weather, as among the group’s top concerns. 

“As the international community defines new objectives to conserve biodiversity, this report signals the urgency with which we must tackle environmental challenges together at the planetary scale,” said Oberle, whose group advises the U.N.’s cultural agency, UNESCO.

FILE - This Sept. 10, 2001, file photo shows Agincourt Reef, located about 30 miles off the coast near the northern reaches of the 1,200-mile long Great Barrier Reef. The Great Barrier Reef is facing a critical period of heat stress over the coming weeks following the most widespread coral bleaching the natural wonder has ever endured, scientists said Friday, March 6, 2020.(AP Photo/Randy Bergman, File)

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