The window to rein in climate-wrecking emissions and limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is fast closing, says a UN report. Societal transformation may be the only way to avoid a coming calamity.
Despite a year of climate-change related extreme floods, storms and wildfires that have devastated communities globally, a new United Nations report finds that current national emissions pledges will lead the world to dangerous levels of heating.
"We are in a climate emergency," said Inger Andersen, executive director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). "And still … nations procrastinate."
States committed to steep emission cuts by 2030 at last year's COP 26 UN climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland. But the gap between pledges and implementation is yawning.
In its review of the updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) — the emission cuts pledged under the 2015 Paris climate agreement — since COP 26, the UN report found that just 0.5 gigatons of CO2 equivalent will be cut by 2030. That's less than 1% of total projected 2030 emissions.
The 2022 Emissions Gap Report states that emissions must fall by 45% over those envisaged under current policies by 2030 to meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) warming limit set in Paris.
Soaring temperature rise unless countries act
Global average temperatures are set to rise by up to 2.8 C, nearly double the 1.5 C limit, under current policies, said the report. However a 2.4 C rise is most likely if current NDCs are implemented.
"This report tells us in cold scientific terms what nature has been telling us, all year, through deadly floods, storms and raging fires: we have to stop filling our atmosphere with greenhouse gases, and stop doing it fast," said Andersen.
The UNEP findings were echoed by a "State of Climate" report released Wednesday. It showed that of 40 climate progress indicators in sectors including transport, energy and climate finance, none are on track to meet 1.5 C targets by 2030.
UNEP found Australia, Argentina, Brazil and Canada are among the countries missing the 2030 target under existing policies.
Similarly, food systems, which account for a third of global emissions, need to be overhauled.
Dietary changes away from high-emission meat and dairy and tackling food waste should be combined with decarbonization of food supply chains, according to the UNEP researchers.
Such transformations would help reduce 2050 food system emissions to around a third of current levels, as opposed to emissions doubling under current practices.
This transformation will also address the health impacts of fossil fuel-driven climate change, according to a report released this week in medical journal The Lancet.
"Households [are] vulnerable to volatile fossil fuel markets, exposed to energy poverty, and dangerous levels of air pollution," said Marina Romanello, executive director of the Lancet Countdown at University College London. Ongoing fossil fuel dependence will worsen these "health harms."
Can COP 27 help close the emissions gap?
Following recommendations at COP 26 in Glasgow, a work program for urgently scaling up ambition on cutting greenhouse gases is set to be agreed at next month's climate conference in Egypt.
Another focus at the conference will be how to pay for loss and damage suffered due to extreme weather in climate vulnerable nations. Regions like Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, suffer the worst effects of climate breakdown while producing relatively low emissions.
But closing the emissions gap and ensuring that 2030 climate targets are met will also be vital.
"It is a tall, and some would say impossible, order to reform the global economy and almost halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, but we must try," said Andersen. "Every fraction of a degree matters: to vulnerable communities, to species and ecosystems, and to every one of us."