UN: we’re reaching a point of no return on emissions

5 Desember 2019

The planet is teetering on the edge of climate catastrophe and we’re heading toward a point of no return, the United Nations’ Secretary-General António Guterres has warned.

“By the end of the coming decade we will be on one of two paths. One is the path of surrender, where we have sleepwalked past the point of no return, jeopardizing the health and safety of everyone on this planet,” Guterres said in his remarks at the UN Climate Change Conference COP25, which takes place between December 2 and 13.

“The other option is the path of hope. A path of resolve, of sustainable solutions. A path where more fossil fuels remain where they should be – in the ground – and where we are on the way to carbon neutrality by 2050. That is the only way to limit global temperature rise to the necessary 1.5 degrees by the end of this century,” the UN’s Secretary-General observed.

At the moment it’s very much the first path we are on. According to the UN’s own new Production Gap Report 2019, which assesses the gap between the targets of the Paris Agreement and countries’ planned production of coal, oil and gas, we are on track to produce far more coal, oil and gas than would be needed to limit warming to a still manageable 1.5°C or 2°C.

As a result, we are creating a “production gap,” which is bound to make drastic emissions reductions much harder to achieve in coming years. Importantly, many of the world’s leading polluters, including China and India, are investing heavily in coal, oil, and gas. These investments indicate that fossil fuels will be burned at exceedingly high rates in coming years.

The report, which was produced by leading research organizations, “shows just how big the disconnect is between Paris temperature goals and countries’ plans and policies for coal, oil, and gas production,” says Michael Lazarus, director of Stockholm Environment Institute’s US Center who was a lead author.

Among their key findings, the report’s authors point out that at current rates and projections we’ll be producing 50% more fossil fuels in 2030 than would be required to limit global temperature warming to 2°C and 120% more than would be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C. “This production gap is largest for coal,” they explain. “Countries plan to produce 150% more coal in 2030 than would be consistent with limiting warming to 2°C, and 280% more than would be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C.”

At the same time, oil and gas will also likely exceed carbon budgets as a result of continued investment and infrastructure developments in these fuels. “National projections suggest that countries are planning on 17% more coal, 10% more oil and 5% more gas production in 2030 than consistent with NDC implementation (which itself is not enough to limit warming to 1.5°C or 2°C),” the authors say.

With radical restructuring of carbon-dependent energy industries in coming years, marked progress can still be made in reducing CO2 emissions. Failing that, we’ll be in for a rough ride globally owing to irreversible changes in the climate.

“Despite more than two decades of climate policy making, fossil fuel production levels are higher than ever,” warns Måns Nilsson, executive director of the Stockholm Environment Institute. “[G]overnments’ continued support for coal, oil and gas extraction is a big part of the problem. We’re in a deep hole – and we need to stop digging.”

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