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UN Calls Global Climate Outlook ‘Bleak’

The world has refused to slash its collective greenhouse gas emissions, narrowing the planet’s pathway back to a safe climate.

Authors of an annual United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) report published Tuesday were uncharacteristically direct in their 2019 assessment of the gap between actual and desirable emissions levels.

“The summary findings are bleak,” they write. “Countries collectively failed to stop the growth in global GHG emissions, meaning that deeper and faster cuts are now required.” 

How deep and how fast? Nations must halve their 2018 pollution levels by 2030 to meet the Paris Agreement goal of limiting heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Global emissions have risen about 1.5% a year in the last decade, plateauing between 2014 and 2016.

The new report is part of a larger trend among high-profile scientific assessments published in the last 18 months, each featuring increasingly blunt language from a community not known for it. Examples include three studies from the UN-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. They addressed limiting global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius, how land is changing around the world and the effects of higher temperatures on iced areas and oceans.

This latest research—the tenth edition of the annual Emissions Gap report—is a hard-check on sentiment, said Leah Stokes, assistant professor of political science at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Current policies could lead to 60 billion metric tons of climate pollution in 2030. To have a shot at staying below 1.5 degrees, that figure needs to be 25 billion tons.

“That’s easy math,” she said. “We’re double what we need to be.”

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