UN Climate Report Says ‘Destructive’ Global Warming Will Result From Unchecked Emissions

Topline: A United Nations climate report released Tuesday says that global temperatures will rise well beyond the levels agreed to in the Paris Agreement⁠—and in order to avoid this, greenhouse gas emissions must be cut substantially to prevent catastrophic weather and environmental damage across the world.

  • The report examines the “emissions gap,” which is the difference between where the world is with reducing greenhouse gas emissions versus what countries agreed to in the Paris accord.
  • In order to meet the Paris accord’s strictest goals, the report calls for a 7.6% reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions between 2020 and 2030.
  • This year-over-year reduction is based on the 1.5% yearly increase in emissions over the past decade, which has shown no sign of peaking.
  • If the 7.6% reduction isn’t achieved, global temperatures are projected to increase 3.9 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, which is twice the limit of the Paris accord. 
  • “Every year of delay beyond 2020 brings a need for faster cuts, which become increasingly expensive, unlikely and impractical,” the report reads. “Delays will also quickly put the 1.5 [Celsius] goal out of reach.”
  • Disastrous effects of not reducing emissions could include coral reefs dissolving in acidic oceans, coastal cities constantly flooding and land made unlivable by intense heat waves.

Crucial quote: “When looking back at the 10 years we have prepared the Emissions Gap Report, it is very disturbing that in spite of the many warnings, global emissions have continued to increase and do not seem to be likely to peak anytime soon,” said John Christensen, an environmental program director at the UN.

Big number: 1 degree Celsius. That’s how much the world has already warmed due to the effects of climate change.

What to watch for: Despite the report’s bleak findings, it offered some hope. Researchers noted that climate change has become a larger political issue in some countries, and that protests (particularly among young people) are happening across the globe. Technology that can quickly and substantially help in curbing emissions have also become more cost-effective, they said. 

Key background: The Paris Agreement was designed to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius, but  researchers have determined that in order to better limit global warming, the goal should be 1.5 degrees, with countries becoming carbon neutral by 2050. Although President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Paris accord, 70 countries have told the UN they will create more ambitious climate pledges in 2020.

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