Climate change ‘hitting harder and sooner’ than forecast, warn scientists ahead of UN meeting

Climate change ‘hitting harder and sooner’ than forecast, warn scientists ahead of UN meeting

Kampala, Uganda | URN | Global warming, shrinking ice sheets and carbon pollution has accelerated over the last several years, according to a report issued by top climate scientists as political leaders head to New York for summit-level climate change talks.

The report which will be presented to the UN Climate Action Summit underlines the glaring and growing gap between agreed targets to tackle global warming and the actual reality.

Compiled by the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the report, United in Science, includes details on the state of the climate and presents trends in the emissions and atmospheric concentrations of the main greenhouse gases.

It shows that Carbon dioxide emissions grew two per cent and reached a record high of 37 billion tons in 2018. However, current economic and energy trends suggest that emissions will be at least as high in 2019 as in 2018.

It further indicates that accelerating climate impacts from melting ice caps to sea-level rise and extreme weather were to blame as the global average temperature increased by 1.1°C above pre-industrial (1850-1900) times and 0.2°C warmer than 2011-2015.

It also highlights the urgency of fundamental socio-economic transformations and carbon-curbing actions in key sectors such as land use and energy to avert dangerous global temperature increase, with potentially irreversible impact, and examines tools to support both mitigation and adaptation.

The scientists argue that the net-zero emissions needed to stabilize the climate requires both an acceleration in the use of non-carbon energy sources and a rapid decline in the global share of fossil fuels in the energy mix. However, the global energy system is still dominated by fossil fuel sources despite extraordinary growth in renewable fuels over the past decade.

According to the report, the current annual increase in global energy use is greater than the increase in renewable energy, meaning fossil fuel use continues to grow.

The assessment from the world’s top climate experts and scientific organizations comes not just ahead of the UN summit, but also against the backdrop of last week’s global ‘climate strike,’ which saw millions of students across the world take to the streets to demand real action from politicians and big corporations to reverse the impacts of a climate emergency.

The findings presented by the report’s experts spotlight the sense of urgency. Amid growing recognition that climate impacts are hitting harder and sooner than climate assessments indicated even a decade ago, there is now a real risk of crossing critical tipping points, according to the scientists.

For example, the report shows that the average global temperature for 2015 – 2019 is on track to be the warmest of any equivalent period on record. It is currently estimated to be 1.1°Celsius above pre-industrial times.

Widespread and long-lasting heatwaves, record-breaking fires and other devastating events such as tropical cyclones, floods and drought have had major impacts on socio-economic development and the environment. Moreover, as climate change intensifies, cities are particularly vulnerable to impacts such as heat stress and can play a key role in reducing emissions locally and globally.

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Against this backdrop, meeting the targets set under the 2015 Paris Agreement requires immediate and all-inclusive action encompassing deep decarbonization complemented by ambitious policy measures, protection and enhancement of carbon sinks and biodiversity, and effort to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.

“Strategies for mitigation and for upscaling adaptive risk management are necessary for going forward. Neither is adequate in isolation given the pace of climate change and magnitude of its impacts,” says the report, which warns that to stop a global temperature increase of more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the level of ambition needs to be tripled.

The scientists say that “only immediate and all-inclusive action encompassing: deep de-carbonization complemented by ambitious policy measures, protection and enhancement of carbon sinks and biodiversity, and efforts to remove carbon emission from the atmosphere, will enable us to meet the Paris Agreement.”