UN says world 'going in wrong direction' on climate change

World Meteorological Organisation says emissions are higher than before the coronavirus pandemic

WMO scientists say phenomena such as the Pakistan floods show climate change is going in the wrong direction. AFP
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Humanity is “going in the wrong direction” on climate change, the UN said on Tuesday in an assessment showing that planet-warming emissions are higher than before the coronavirus pandemic.

The UN's World Meteorological Organisation and its Environment Programme said that catastrophes will become commonplace should countries fail to decarbonise in line with what science says is needed to prevent the worst impacts of global warming.

The agencies pointed to Pakistan's monumental floods and China's crop-withering heatwave this year as examples of what to expect.

The UN said last month that the drought gripping the Horn of Africa and threatening millions with acute food shortages was now likely to extend into a fifth year.

“Floods, droughts, heatwaves, extreme storms and wildfires are going from bad to worse, breaking records with alarming frequency,” said UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

“There is nothing natural about the new scale of these disasters. They are the price of humanity's fossil fuel addiction.”

Millions of people in the Horn of Africa region are going hungry because of drought, and thousands have died, with Somalia hit especially hard. AP

The UN's United in Science report underscores how, nearly three years since Covid-19 handed governments a unique opportunity to reassess how to power their economies, countries are continuing to pollute.

It found that after an unprecedented 5.4 per cent fall in emissions in 2020 due to lockdowns and travel restrictions, preliminary data from January-May this year shows global CO2 emissions are 1.2 per cent higher than before Covid-19.

This is mostly down to large year-on-year increases in the US, India and most European countries, the assessment found.

“The science is unequivocal: we are going in the wrong direction,” said WMO Secretary General Petteri Taalas.

“Greenhouse gas concentrations are continuing to rise, reaching new record highs. Fossil fuel emission rates are now above pre-pandemic levels. The past seven years were the warmest on record.”

Last week, the European Union's Copernicus climate monitor said that summer 2022 was the hottest in Europe and one of the hottest globally since records began in the 1970s.

Tuesday's report said there was a 93 per cent chance that the record for the hottest year globally — currently 2016 — will be broken within five years.

It said that the continued use of fossil fuels meant the chance of the annual mean global temperature temporarily exceeding 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels in one of the next five years was roughly even, at 48 per cent.

Polluters paying no heed to Paris Agreement

Keeping longer-term temperatures below 1.5°C is the most ambitious goal of the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Despite more than three decades of UN-led negotiations, rich polluters show little sign of being willing to make the kind of large-scale emissions cuts that would keep the goal in play.

The UN's Environment Programme, in an update to its annual “emissions gap” assessment following new pledges made at last November's Cop26 summit in Glasgow, said on Tuesday that even these promises were far from adequate.

In fact, it said the ambition even in countries' most recent pledges would need to be four times greater to limit warming to 2°C, and seven times higher to make 1.5°C.

All told, current worldwide climate policies put Earth on course to warm by 2.8°C by 2100, the agency said.

Mr Guterres said that Tuesday's assessment showed “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,” he said in a video message.

Tasneem Essop, executive director of Climate Action Network, said that the coming Cop27 climate conference in Egypt needed leaders to agree to new funding to help communities in at-risk nations rebuild after extreme events.

“The terrifying picture painted by the United in Science report is already a lived reality for millions of people facing recurring climate disasters,” she said.

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Updated: September 13, 2022, 5:44 PM