Four years after countries struck a historic deal in Paris to curb greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to avert the worst effects of global warming, humanity is heading for those same climate disasters, according to a United Nations report released Tuesdaywith China and the United States, the two biggest polluters, having expanded their carbon footprints last year.
"The summary conclusions are bleak," the report said, because countries could not stop rising greenhouse gas emissions even after repeated warnings from scientists. The result, the authors added, is that "deeper and faster cuts are now needed."
The world's 20 richest countries, accounting for more than three-quarters of emissions, must take the biggest and fastest steps to move away from fossil fuels, the report emphasized. The richest country of all, the United States, however, formally began to completely abandon the Paris agreement.
Global greenhouse gas emissions have grown by 1.5% a year over the past decade, according to the annual assessment, the Emissions Gap Report, produced by the United Nations Environment Program. The opposite must happen for the world to avert the worst effects of climate change, including more severe droughts, stronger storms and widespread food insecurity by the middle of the century. To stay within relatively safe limits, emissions are expected to fall sharply by 7.6 percent a year between 2020 and 2030, the report warned.
Separately, the World Meteorological Organization He said on Monday that emissions of three major greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide – have risen in the atmosphere since the mid-eighteenth century.
Under the Paris Agreement, reached in November 2015, all countries are committed to controlling emissions, each setting their own targets and schedules. Even if all countries live up to their current promises – and many, including the United States, Brazil and Australia, are not on track to do so – the Emissions Gap Report found that average temperatures are on the way up 3.2. degrees Celsius from the average of the baseline. temperature at the beginning of the industrial age.
For more weather news, subscribe to Climate Fwd: newsletter or follow @NYTClimate on Twitter.
This trajectory is terrible for the future of humanity. According to scientific models, this kind of temperature rise dramatically increases the likelihood of extreme weather events, accelerated glacier melting and swollen seas – all endangering the lives of billions of people.
The Paris Agreement decided to keep global temperatures rising well below 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit; Last year, a UN-backed panel of scientists said the safest limit was to keep it at 1.5 degrees Celsius.
It need not be so. There are many ways to reduce emissions: abandon combustion of fossil fuels, especially coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel in the world; switch to renewable energy such as solar and wind energy; move away from cars that use gasoline and diesel; and stop deforestation.
In fact, many countries are going in the wrong direction. AN separate analysis released this month analyzed how much coal, oil and natural gas nations of the world have said they expect to produce and sell by 2030. If all these fossil fuels were finally extracted and burned, according to the report, countries would collectively lose their climate promises as well as the global goal of 2 degrees Celsius, by an even larger margin than previously thought.
Several countries around the world, including Canada and Norway, have made plans to reduce domestic emissions and expand production of fossil fuels for sale abroad, the report noted.
"Globally, that makes no sense," said Michael Lazarus, lead author of the report and director of the United States Center at the Stockholm Environment Institute. So far, he noted, discussions about whether and how to restrict fossil fuel production are almost entirely absent from international climate negotiations.
The International Energy Agency recently highlighted the proliferation of SUVs, noting that the US surge, which consumes more gasoline than conventional cars, could wipe out much of the oil economy of an electric car boom.
Diplomats are due to meet in Madrid in December for the next round of talks on the Paris Agreement rules. The world's biggest polluters are under pressure to increase their promises.
"This is a striking new reminder," Spain's green transition minister Teresa Ribera said of the Emissions Gap Report in an email. "We urgently need to align with the objectives of the Paris Agreement and raise climate ambition."
If there is good news in the report, it is that the current trajectory is not as dire as before countries around the world began to take steps to reduce their emissions. The 2015 Emission Gap Report said that without any climate policy, the world would probably face about 4 degrees Celsius of warming.
Coal use is falling sharply, especially in the United States and Western Europe, according to an analysis by Carbon Brief. Renewable energy is expanding rapidly, though not as fast as necessary. And city and state governments around the world, including the United States, are adopting stricter rules on car exhaust pollution.
Those who have followed the diplomatic negotiations say they are confronted with a kind of cognitive dissonance when they think at the moment. The world's biggest polluters are nowhere near where they should be to reduce their emissions at a time when it is almost impossible to ignore the human number of climate change.
And yet, renewable energy is spreading faster than might be expected a few years ago; Buses and electric cars are proliferating and young people are protesting to the millions in rich and poor countries. Even in the United States, with its persistent negation movement, how to deal with climate change is a resonant issue in the presidential campaign.
"There are some of the best and worst times," said David Waskow, director of the international climate initiative at the World Resources Institute, a research and advocacy group.
Brad Plumer contributed reporting.