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UN: World missing climate goals

November 19, 2014

The world still isn't even close to preventing what scientists consider a dangerous level of man-made emissions, a new United Nations report says. Scientists predict that 2014 will rank among the warmest years on record.

New York climate protest
Image: Rachael Bongiorno

According to the UN's annual Emissions Gap report, the world is currently set to miss its major goals on containing climate change. The report found that the world was not on target for a reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 2030, compared to the baseline year 1990, also saying that limiting global temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) by 2100 appeared unlikely. These goals in the fight against climate change were set by international leaders in 2009. Thus far, however, greenhouse gas emissions have increased 45 percent compared to 1990 levels.

"Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will lead to an even warmer climate and exacerbate the devastating effect of climate change," UN Environment Undersecretary Achim Steiner wrote in the report, released on Wednesday.

Emissions from C02, methane and other gases must peak before 2030, said the report's chief scientific editor, Joseph Alcamo. However, according to the study, CO2 emissions will continue to increase until 2050 - too late to prevent the temperature rise - even after recent promises from the US and China, as well as the European Union, the world's top emitters.

Brazil, China, the European Union, India and the Russian Federation should meet their pledges to cut emissions, according to the report. Australia, Canada, Mexico and the United States "are likely to require further action and/or purchased offsets to meet their pledges" for 2020, the report found. The Emissions Gap did not draw conclusions for Japan, South Korea, Indonesia or South Africa "because of various uncertainties, nor for Argentina, Turkey and Saudi Arabia because they have not proposed pledges."

'Global carbon neutrality'

According to the researchers, with greater engagement the world could emit about 42 billion metric tons (46 billion short tons) of greenhouse gases by 2030 and keep below the 2-degree mark. However, even factoring in recent pledges, the world would spew between 15 and 19 billion metric tons more than that, said Alcamo, the chief scientist for the UN's environmental arm.

The world must halve CO2 emissions by 2050 to avoid warming's effects: food shortages, job loss and storm damage, among other potential catastrophes. Then, the report calls for "global carbon neutrality" - a net zero of human-caused C02 emissions - between 2055 and 2070.

Leonardo DiCaprio
In September, the UN drafted Leonardo DiCaprio for its climate effortsImage: Reuters/Mike Segar

That would mean offsetting emissions from burning fossil fuels by, for instance, planting forests that absorb CO2 and emit oxygen as part of photosynthesis. After that, the report said that total global greenhouse gas emissions, not just carbon, need to shrink to net zero sometime between 2080 and 2100. To achieve that, the report recommends reduced transport demand, sustainable agriculture and decreased industrial pollution, as well as ending fossil fuel subsidies and raising petrol prices "so that they incorporate the costs of climate change and other environmental damages."

mkg/msh (Reuters, AFP, AP)