The world's nations must make steep cuts to their greenhouse gas emissions immediately or risk missing the targets they’ve agreed on for limiting global warming, senior United Nations officials said in a report released Tuesday.
"Our collective failure to act early and hard on climate change means we now must deliver deep cuts to emissions,” Inger Andersen, executive director of the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP), said in a statement that accompanied the report. “We need to catch up on the years in which we procrastinated.”
Tuesday's report concerns what scientists and policymakers call the "emissions gap," the difference between the amount of carbon dioxide emitted now and the drastically lower levels needed to slow or stop global warming.
The report says global emissions continue to rise and will need to be cut at a rate of 7.6% each year for the next decade to limit global warming to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, which is in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement.
“What we are looking at is really that emissions need to go down by 55% by 2030,” said John Christensen, lead author and director of the UNEP-Danish Technology Institute Partnership.
Man-made greenhouse gas emissions rose in 2018 to 55.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide, the report says. Much of the increase came from emerging economies such as China and India.
The report says that even if all unconditional commitments under the Paris Agreement are enacted, global temperatures are expected to rise by 5.8 degrees by 2100, bringing even wider-ranging and more destructive climate impacts.
"This would make large parts of the planet uninhabitable and cause mass extinction of species," the report says. "The cost to protect our homes, cities and people from extreme weather will rapidly escalate, and no country will be immune."
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Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists warned, “We are sleepwalking toward climate catastrophe and need to wake up and take urgent action."
Experts agree that the longer countries burn fossil fuels, the more warming will be “locked in” as emissions stay in the atmosphere for years or even decades.
"For 10 years, the Emissions Gap Report has been sounding the alarm – and for 10 years, the world has only increased its emissions,” U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said.
“There has never been a more important time to listen to the science," Guterres said. "Failure to heed these warnings and take drastic action to reverse emissions means we will continue to witness deadly and catastrophic heat waves, storms and pollution.”