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UN releases bleak report on temperature change projections based on global carbon emissions rates

The UN Environment Program has released its tenth annual report on emissions gaps, having found that the current rate of global carbon emissions will lead to an average temperature rise of 3.5 degrees Celsius over preindustrial levels by 2100.

The report was completed by international scientists and specialists that assess where countries are in terms of their emissions levels versus where they need to be to avoid the worst damage from climate change. Inger Andersen, the executive director of the program, wrote in the foreword that “[o]ur collective failure to act strongly and early means that we must now implement deep and urgent cuts. … This report gives us a stark choice: set in motion the radical transformations we need now, or face the consequences of a planet radically altered by climate change.”

For the last decade, the UN Environment Program has released findings that countries are not on track to protect from the worst effects of climate change through emissions reductions despite increasing environmental warnings and political commitments to change. Greenhouse gas emissions are not projected to peak in upcoming years, which does not bode well for ongoing emissions reductions. According to the report: “every year of postponed peaking means that deeper and faster cuts will be required. By 2030, emissions would need to be 25 per cent and 55 per cent lower than in 2018 to put the world on the least-cost pathway to limiting global warming to below 2˚C and 1.5°C respectively.”

Furthermore, seven G20 countries, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, Japan, the Republic of Korea, South Africa and the US are either not on track to meet their 2020 Cancun Pledge emissions goals or they are projected with substantial certainty to miss them. Although more countries have been expressing commitments to reaching net zero emissions by 2050, few have released long-term strategies for achieving this goal.

The report is constructed with calculations primarily aimed at achieving a temperature increase between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius. To achieve their nationally determined contributions, countries must increase their ambitions threefold for the 2 degree goal and more than fivefold for the 1.5 degree goal. Since G20 countries contribute over three-quarters of global emissions, their efforts will be the most significant. Selected opportunities for improvement in various areas were also included in the report. For instance, it was suggested that the US:

● Introduce regulations on power plants, clean energy standards and carbon pricing to achieve an electricity supply that is 100 per cent carbon-free
● Implement carbon pricing on industrial emissions
● Strengthen vehicle and fuel economy standards to be in line with zero emissions for new cars in 2030
● Implement clean building standards so that all new buildings are 100 per cent electrified by 2030

The report also generally emphasized the importance of phasing out coal, increasing energy efficiency, and heightening electrification. While Andersen wrote that the necessary cuts may seem “shocking,” she urged the importance of collective focus and effort on the climate crisis and the changes that must be made to avoid the worst outcomes.