“The science is unequivocal: we are going in the wrong direction” when it comes to addressing climate change, a new report from the World Meteorological Organization says. This year’s planet-heating pollution has risen above pre-pandemic levels.
All over the world, people are already facing dire consequences from the 1.2 degrees of global warming human activity has caused since the industrial revolution. “Heatwaves in Europe. Colossal floods in Pakistan. Prolonged and severe droughts in China, the Horn of Africa and the United States. They are the price of humanity’s fossil fuel addiction,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in a press release and accompanying video today.
“There is nothing natural about the new scale of these disasters”
To stop climate-driven disasters from getting significantly worse, research finds, greenhouse gas emissions have to virtually disappear within the next few decades. And that can’t happen overnight. Global emissions are supposed to fall by nearly 8 percent a year in order to limit global warming to around 1.5 degrees Celsius, something that 196 countries agreed to back in 2015 in the Paris climate agreement.
The opposite is happening, according to the report released by the WMO today called “United in Science.” Preliminary data for 2022 shows that global carbon dioxide emissions are on track to be even higher than they were before COVID-19 shuttered economies. That slowdown in 2020 caused a brief dip in greenhouse gas emissions. By 2021, the world started pumping out about the same amount of pollution as it was before the pandemic.
Now, data from the first five months of the year shows that global CO2 emissions are 1.2 percent higher than they were during the same period in 2019. We have the US, India, and “most European countries” to blame for much of that uptick in pollution, according to the report.
With pollution still getting worse, it’s becoming increasingly likely that the world will soon breach that 1.5-degree threshold for warming. There’s a 48 percent chance that annual mean temperature will get that hot during at least one of the next five years, according to the report. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to climb, that change becomes permanent.
In fact, the world is on track to heat by as much as 2.8 degrees this century if countries continue with their current policies. By that point, climate scientists expect that we would have already triggered the near-complete annihilation of the world’s coral reefs. About 13 percent of the Earth’s terrestrial land would transform from one ecosystem to another kind entirely (we risk turning the lush Amazon rainforest into a savanna, for example).
“This year’s United in Science report shows climate impacts heading into uncharted territory of destruction. Yet, each year, we double-down on this fossil fuel addiction, even as the symptoms get rapidly worse,” Guterres said in his video message.
To keep warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, according to the report, countries’ pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions this decade need to be seven times higher. There’s some progress on that. The US, for example, managed to narrowly pass a package of clean energy and climate policies this year that is supposed to get it close to slashing its pollution in half from peak levels by 2030. But even that leaves a lot more work left to do.
“The terrifying picture painted by the United in Science report is already a lived reality for millions of people facing recurring climate disasters,” Tasneem Essop, executive director of the Climate Action Network, said in a press statement today.