'Throwing cups of water at a raging inferno': UN study says Earth could warm 2.9C (5.2F) by 2100
A United Nations report published Wednesday ahead of November's COP27 talks warns that planetary heating could reach a catastrophic 2.9°C by the end of the century without immediate action from the world's largest polluters to dramatically rein in carbon emissions and transition away from fossil fuels.
The analysis by the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) examines the climate commitments of the 193 national parties to the Paris climate accord, which sets out to limit warming to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels—an amount of heating that would still have devastating impacts across the world, particularly in poor and low-lying nations.
Even if countries meet their current climate targets—something many nations, including the United States, are not on track to achieve as climate advocates and scientists push for bolder action—global carbon emissions are projected to rise 10.6% by 2030 relative to 2010 levels and the planet is set to warm by an average of 2.1 to 2.9°C by 2100.
"The latest U.N. report is another reminder that we are still just throwing cups of water at a raging inferno," Jamie Henn, director of Fossil Free Media, wrote on Twitter. "It's past time for [U.S. President Joe Biden] to declare a climate emergency and use every power he has to get us off fossil fuels."
The report notes that while "some progress" has been made toward reducing planet-warming emissions over the past year, "an urgent need for either a significant increase in the level of ambition of [nationally determined contributions] between now and 2030 or a significant overachievement" of climate action plans will be necessary to avert disastrous warming. The New York Times noted that "just 26 of 193 countries that agreed last year to step up their climate actions have followed through with more ambitious plans."
"The downward trend in emissions expected by 2030 shows that nations have made some progress this year," said Simon Stiell, the executive secretary of U.N. Climate Change. "But the science is clear and so are our climate goals under the Paris Agreement. We are still nowhere near the scale and pace of emission reductions required to put us on track toward a 1.5°C world."
"To keep this goal alive," Stiell added, "national governments need to strengthen their climate action plans now and implement them in the next eight years."
The report was published as extreme weather made more intense by the climate emergency continues to ravage large swaths of the globe, taking lives, destroying communities, and exacerbating the intertwined crises of poverty, hunger, and inequality. Millions are reeling from devastating flooding in Nigeria and Pakistan while East Africa is in the midst of a starvation crisis intensified by prolonged drought.
The potential impacts of 2.9°C of warming are stark. As Scott Kulp, a computational scientist at Climate Central, told Buzzfeed last year, "an estimated 12% of the current global population living on land could be threatened under long-term future sea level rise under the 3°C scenario."
"So that amounts to 810 million people," Kulp noted.
Another expert, Rutgers University climate scientist Robert Kopp, told the outlet that "the more we push the system above 2°C—but we don't know how much—the more the chance we trigger ice sheet processes that could rapidly increase sea level rise."
Sameh Shoukry, Egypt's minister of foreign affairs and president-designate of the upcoming COP27 talks, said in a statement that the new UNFCCC report is further "testimony to the fact that we are off track on achieving the Paris climate goal and keeping the 1.5 degrees within reach."
"Raising ambition and urgent implementation is indispensable for addressing the climate crisis," said Shoukry. "This includes cutting and removing emissions faster and at wider scope of economic sectors, to protect us from more severe adverse climate impacts and devastating loss and damage."
"This is a sobering moment, and we are in a race against time," Shoukry added. "Several of those who are expected to do more are far from doing enough, and the consequences of this is affecting lives and livelihoods across the globe. I am conscious that it is and should be a continuum of action until 2030 then 2050. However, these alarming findings merit a transformative response at COP27."
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