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World set for 3ºC warming by 2100 despite pandemic and pledges – UN

Earth is still on course to warm more than 3 degrees Celsius (ºC) by the century's end despite a dip in greenhouse gas emissions caused by the pandemic and pledges to curb pollution, the UN said on Wednesday, December 9.

In its annual assessment of emissions levels, the UN's Environment Programme found that 2020's 7% fall in carbon pollution would have "negligible impact" on warming without a broad and rapid shift away from fossil fuels.

The Emissions Gap report analyses the gulf between action required under the Paris climate deal and emissions cuts currently planned by countries.

It found that a "green recovery" from the pandemic, in which emerging net-zero pledges are accelerated, could shave 25% off of emissions by 2030.

This would bring the world closer to levels required to limit warming to 2ºC as stipulated under Paris.

With just over 1ºC of warming since pre-industrial times, Earth is already experiencing stronger and more frequent droughts, wildfires and superstorms rendered deadlier by rising seas.

"Obviously the world has been in lockdown. During this time we saw a 7% decline in emissions," UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen told Agence France-Presse.

"But we also know that the answer is not to lock up the world and have 1.9 billion children out of school."

She said Wednesday's report showed that a green pandemic recovery "can take a huge slice out of greenhouse gas emissions and help slow climate change."

UNEP said last year that emissions must fall 7.6% annually through 2030 to keep the more ambitious Paris temperature goal of 1.5ºC in play.

While 2020 is likely to see emissions fall broadly in line with that figure, it took an unprecedented slowdown in industry, travel and manufacturing to achieve.

Experts fear that a rebound in carbon emissions is nearly inevitable in 2021; last week the UN said that countries planned to increase fossil fuel production by 2% each year this decade.

To limit warming to 1.5ºC it said oil, gas and coal production instead must fall 6% each year.

Wednesday's assessment found that emissions in 2019 – a year scientists still hope will represent a peak in annual carbon pollution – stood at 59.1 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent.

This represents a 2.6% increase compared with 2018, largely driven by an increase in forest fires, UNEP said.

All told, Earth is still on course to warm more than 3ºC by 2100 – a temperature rise that would displace hundreds of millions of people because of rising seas, crop failures and increasingly extreme weather such as droughts and storms.

Emissions inequality

It said reduced travel, industrial activity and electrical generation during the pandemic would see emissions fall 7% compared with last year.

But that would only translate to a 0.01ºC reduction of global warming by 2050.

UNEP said a green recovery from COVID-19 would see emissions hit 44 GT in 2030 compared with a predicted 59 GT, giving humanity a 66% chance of holding temperature rises under 2ºC.

This would need widespread switches to renewable energy, direct support for zero-emission technology and infrastructure, reducing fossil fuel subsidies, no new coal plants and widespread reforestation, it said.

Yet the pandemic recovery already appears to have support for high pollution industries already figured in, with only a quarter of G20 nations dedicating spending shares to low-carbon measures.

The report also laid bare the vast inequality of carbon pollution: the wealthiest 1% account for more than twice the combined emissions of the poorest 50%.

UNEP said this group needed to slash its carbon footprint by a factor of 30 to stay in line with the Paris targets.

Tim Gore, Head of Climate Policy at Oxfam, said Wednesday's report showed it was "practically and politically impossible to close the emissions gap if governments don't cut the carbon footprint of the wealthy." – Rappler.com