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U.N. warns significant carbon cuts needed

A new U.N. report cautions the world must begin cutting greenhouse gas emissions by at least 7.6% a year starting in 2020 to meet global targets.

GENEVA (AN) — A new United Nations report cautions the world must begin cutting greenhouse gas emissions by at least 7.6% a year starting in 2020 to meet global targets for avoiding the worst effects of planetary overheating.

U.N. Environment warned — as it did in a similar report last year — the gap is dangerously wide between the goal of limiting global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius this century and the reality of what is politically achievable.

Almost 200 nations signed the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement that committed the world to “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees C. above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees C. above pre-industrial levels.”

Since the world’s average temperatures have already increased 1 degree since pre-industrial times, the real choice is whether to try to limit further warming to a half-degree or 1 degree more.

Now, U.N. Environment, or UNEP, says in its annual Emissions Gap Report that global cuts in warming gases of 7.6% will be needed each year between 2020 and 2030 to achieve the Paris treaty's goals.

Without such action the world is heading for a 3.2 degrees temperature rise, UNEP said, adding that 15 members of the Group of 20 major economies, which account for 78 per cent of all emissions, have not yet committed to a timeline for net-zero emissions.

"For ten years, the Emissions Gap Report has been sounding the alarm — and for ten years, the world has only increased its emissions,” said U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres.

“There has never been a more important time to listen to the science," he said. "Failure to heed these warnings and take drastic action to reverse emissions means we will continue to witness deadly and catastrophic heatwaves, storms and pollution.”

Well-timed appeal

The United Nations sounded the alarm just ahead of its major climate conference in Madrid, hosted by the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC, the treaty platform for the talks.

The world's leading group of climate experts, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, has repeatedly said that even the most optimistic scenarios for halting the rise in average global temperatures will still result in serious repercussions for the planet and future generations. It warns that anything beyond a 1.5 degree increase will increase the frequency and intensity of climate impacts.

“Our collective failure to act early and hard on climate change means we now must deliver deep cuts to emissions — over 7 per cent each year, if we break it down evenly over the next decade,” said Inger Andersen, UNEP’s executive director.

“This shows that countries simply cannot wait until the end of 2020, when new climate commitments are due, to step up action," she said. "They — and every city, region, business and individual — need to act now.”

On Monday, the U.N.'s World Meteorological Organization reported that levels of greenhouse gases hit record high concentrations in the atmosphere. The WMO Greenhouse Gas Bulletin said global average concentrations of carbon dioxide were at 407.8 parts per million in 2018, up from 405.5 ppm in 2017.

A decade ago, some scientists, leaders and advocacy groups warned that the world already passed a dangerous tipping point, at 350 ppm, and must reverse the trend. IPCC says the warming is mainly due to the buildup of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases from fossil fuel burning.

“There is no sign of a slowdown, let alone a decline, in greenhouse gases concentration in the atmosphere despite all the commitments under the Paris Agreement on climate change," WMO's secretary-general, Petteri Taalas, said in a statement.   “We need to translate the commitments into action and increase the level of ambition for the sake of the future welfare of the mankind."

Taalas noted that scientists have determined the last time Earth had comparable CO2 concentrations was about 3 million to 5 million years ago, when temperatures were 2 degrees to 3 degrees warmer and sea levels were 10 meters to 20 meters higher than now.

The damage from high levels of CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere will take a long time to reverse, WMO said, making it an urgent matter for all to begin taking corrective action. "Irrespective of future policy, carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for centuries, locking in warming trends," it said.