Emissions Should Be Plummeting. Instead, They’re Breaking Dangerous New Records

Next week, world leaders will head to Dubai for the Conference of the Parties—the United Nations’ annual climate meeting—to finalize the first “global stocktake,” assessing progress toward the Paris Agreement’s goals. The UN Environment Programme is not mincing words about how far from those goals nations are. Today, ahead of COP28, it is releasing a damning report: “Broken Record—Temperatures Hit New Highs, Yet World Fails to Cut Emissions (Again).”

It finds that instead of falling, global greenhouse gas emissions went up 1.2 percent between 2021 and 2022 and now sit at a record high. To keep warming to the Paris Agreement’s upper limit of 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, emissions would have to crash by 28 percent in only seven years. They’d have to fall by 42 percent if we stand any chance of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees, the agreement’s more aspirational goal.

“This year’s report is called a ‘broken record’ for a reason,” says Taryn Fransen, a report coauthor and the director of science, research, and data at the World Resources Institute. “Not only did the world blow past previous emissions and temperature records this year, but also as authors, we know we sound like a broken record. Year after year, we say the world is not doing enough to address climate change.”

Humanity is barreling in the wrong direction. Unless nations get serious about increasing their ambitions, the world is on track to wildly overshoot the Paris goals, warming somewhere between 2.5 and 2.9 degrees Celsius, the report notes. That would be catastrophic, given the effects we’re already seeing at 1.1 degrees of warming, and considering that mere fractions of a degree add to the pain. This September was on average 1.8 degrees hotter than pre-industrial times, smashing the month’s previous record by 0.5 degrees. (That doesn’t mean we’ve blown past the Paris Agreement’s 1.5 degree limit just yet, since that refers to sustained temperatures, not monthly records.)

The report adds that governments are planning on producing more than twice the amount of fossil fuels in 2030 than the Paris Agreement’s ambitions would allow—and that’s even as the price of renewables continues to crater and electric vehicle adoption is growing. “The issue is the pace,” says Fransen. “Things are just not going fast enough, because we essentially wasted decades not taking action. Now I would say we are taking action, and it’s having an effect. But we need to go so much faster.”

Transitioning to renewables is sound economic policy with a host of co-benefits. In the United States, the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 is pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into the green economy, and it has already created 75,000 jobs, by one estimate. Burning less fossil fuel also improves air quality, reducing health care costs. So just do it already. “It’s both a frustration but also good news, because it does show us that it’s possible,” says Anne Olhoff, chief scientific editor of the new report. “There’s no good reason not to do this. And I think that most countries and decisionmakers are running out of good reasons for not doing so.”

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