BERLIN (AP) — Temperatures on Earth will shoot past a key danger point unless greenhouse gas emissions fall faster than countries have committed, the world’s top body of climate scientists said Monday, warning of the consequences of inaction but also noting hopeful signs of progress.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change revealed "a litany of broken climate promises” by governments and corporations, accusing them of stoking global warming by clinging to harmful fossil fuels.
“It is a file of shame, cataloguing the empty pledges that put us firmly on track toward an unlivable world,” he said.
Governments agreed in the 2015 Paris accord to keep global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) this century, ideally no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit). Yet temperatures have already increased by over 1.1C (2F) since pre-industrial times, resulting in measurable increases in disasters such flash floods, extreme heat, more intense hurricanes and longer-burning wildfires, putting human lives in danger and costing governments hundreds of billions of dollars to confront.
“Projected global emissions from (national pledges) place limiting global warming to 1.5C beyond reach and make it harder after 2030 to limit warming to 2C,” the panel said.
In other words, the report’s co-chair, James Skea of Imperial College London, told The Associated Press: “If we continue acting as we are now, we’re not even going to limit warming to 2 degrees, never mind 1.5 degrees."
Ongoing investments in fossil fuel infrastructure and clearing large swaths of forest for agriculture undermine the massive curbs in emissions needed to meet the Paris goal, the report found.
Emissions in 2019 were about 12% higher than they were in 2010 and 54% higher than in 1990, said Skea.
The rate of growth has slowed from 2.1% per year in the early part of this century to 1.3% per year between 2010 and 2019, the report’s authors said. But they voiced “high confidence” that unless countries step up their efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions, the planet will on average be 2.4C to 3.5C (4.3 to 6.3F) warmer by the end of the century — a level experts say is sure to cause severe impacts for much of the world’s population.
“Limiting warming to 1.5C requires global greenhouse gas emissions to peak before 2025 at the latest and be reduced by 43% by 2030,” he said.
Such cuts would be hard to achieve without drastic, economy-wide measures, the panel acknowledged. It's more likely that the world will pass 1.5C and efforts will then need to be made to bring temperatures back down again, including by removing vast amounts of carbon dioxide — the main greenhouse gas — from the atmosphere.
Many experts say this is unfeasible with current technologies, and even if it could be done it would be far costlier than preventing the emissions in the first place.
The report, numbering thousands of pages, doesn’t single out individual countries for blame. But the figures show much of the carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere was released by rich countries that were the first to burn coal, oil and gas beginning with the industrial revolution.
The U.N. panel said 40% of emissions since then came from Europe and North America. Just over 12% can be attributed to East Asia, which includes China. But China took over the position as world’s top emissions polluter from the United States in the mid-2000s.
Many countries and companies have used recent climate meetings to paint rosy pictures of their emissions-cutting efforts, while continuing to invest in fossil fuels and other polluting activities, Guterres charged.