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Climate Headed for Catastrophic Change Despite Paris Accord

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Jessica Shankleman Jess_Shankleman

November 3, 2016


  • Warming of 3.4 Celsius expected under current climate plans
  • Countries must find at least 12 gigatonnes of carbon savings


This week’s early entry into force of the Paris Agreement on climate change won’t save the planet from rising seas, super storms and deadly drought, according to the United Nations.

Without further pledges to curb emissions, temperatures are set to rise by as much as 3.4 degrees Celsius (6.1 degrees Fahrenheit) compared to pre-industrial levels, according to a report by the UN Environment Program on Thursday. The findings risk making December’s Paris Agreement outdated even before it takes effect on Friday, two years earlier than envisioned.

“We will grieve over the avoidable human tragedy,” said the head of UNEP, Erik Solheim, in a statement. “The growing numbers of climate refugees hit by hunger, poverty, illness and conflict will be a constant reminder of our failure to deliver.”

Despite the fast action of 92 countries that made the Paris accord legally binding quicker than thought possible, the deal’s goal of keeping temperature rises well below 2 degrees Celsius is slipping away. The scientific consensus is that any increase above that level would lead to catastrophic changes to the climate — from extreme droughts and coastal flooding to disruptions to world food supplies — which would have severe economic consequences.

“We have to see emissions peaking by 2020, otherwise reaching the 1.5 degree target becomes virtually impossible,” said Jacqueline McGlade, UNEP chief scientist, in a phone interview.

Emissions Gap

Countries must close an emissions gap on at least 12 gigatons of carbon dioxide — equivalent to the greenhouse gases emitted by all the cars on Europe’s roads over 12 years, according to McGlade. There are about 291 million motor vehicles driving in the 28-member European Union, according to the latest figures from the European Automobile Manufacturers Association.

The world will still be pumping out 54 to 56 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent a year by 2030 under current plans, well above the 42 gigatons needed to limit warming to 2 degrees, according to the report.

As many as 9 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent could be eliminated through better land management and by improving agriculture and forestry. A further 3 gigatons could be saved through better energy efficiency, McGlade said.


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