The United Nations has warned that unless a greater commitment is made to cutting greenhouse gas emissions, the Paris Agreement “target” of a rise in global temperature of no more than 2 degrees will be missed. It identifies a realistic scenario in which temperatures may rise by 3 degrees – a scenario that spells catastrophe for hundreds of millions of people.
The UN’s 2017 Emissions gap report examines the extent to which action to meet climate change targets measures up to what is actually needed to achieve them. It reports that there is “an urgent need for accelerated short-term action and enhanced longer-term national ambition if the goals of the Paris Agreement are to remain achievable.”
The report finds that action by individual countries to meet their own existing targets is not yet sufficiently effective but is also clear that those targets are themselves inadequate, saying “the gap between the reductions needed and the national pledges made in Paris is alarmingly high”.
Progress – but not enough
Carbon dioxide emissions have remained broadly the same since 2014, although atmospheric concentrations of other greenhouse gases, such as methane, continue to rise. Growing investment in alternative forms of energy has helped to reduce its price and the report’s authors believe “practical and cost effective measures” are available to meet the Paris Agreement goals.
Erik Solkheim, head of the United Nations Environment Program, said:
“We still find ourselves in a situation where we are not doing nearly enough to save hundreds of millions of people from a miserable future. This is unacceptable. If we invest in the right technologies, ensuring that the private sector is involved, we can still meet the promise we made to our children to protect their future. But we have to get on the case now.”
The consequences of 3 degrees
Scientists have warned that a temperature rise of 3 degrees will lead to a devastating rise in sea levels. According to an article in The Guardian, Climate Central estimates that 275 million people worldwide live in areas that will eventually be flooded if temperatures rise that high.
Among many other low-lying coastal cities, Miami, Shanghai, Osaka and Alexandria would be swamped. In the UK, large parts of eastern England and in particular Lincolnshire could be consumed by the sea.
Population and climate change
Adding more human beings to the global population increases emissions, exacerbates climate change and reduces the positive impact of ay other measures taken. A study this year by researchers from the University of Lund and British Columbia found that the single most effective step any individual in the developed world can take to reduce their carbon footprint is to have one fewer child.
An earlier study identified improving women’s education and family planning as among the most effective, achievable policies available to address global warming – because of their positive impact on reducing family size and population growth.
So far, however, discussion of such policies and the need to stabilise population at sustainable levels has not been on the policy agenda for mitigating climate change.