GENEVA – Greenhouse gas emissions surged to a record level last year and world temperatures could rise more than twice the globally agreed upon warming limit if nothing is done, a U.N. report showed Tuesday.
The Emissions Gap Report is one of several studies released ahead of U.N. climate talks in Madrid next week aimed at spurring world leaders to limit climate change.
It measures the amount of emissions cuts needed to limit global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, as agreed to in the key 2015 Paris climate pact. The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last year warned of huge global consequences if that target is not met, such as the loss of nearly all coral reefs and most Arctic sea ice.
“As things stand, temperatures can be expected to rise by 3.2 C this century, bringing wide-ranging and destructive climate impacts,” according to the report summary by the U.N. Environment Programme.
The report’s lead author, John Christensen, said the safest temperature threshold set in Paris of 1.5 degrees is still possible but will require emissions cuts of 7.6 percent a year between 2020 and 2030. For 2 degrees, it would mean annual cuts of 2.7 percent.
“It’s going to be really, really challenging,” Christensen said. “The longer you wait, the more difficult it becomes.” The report shows that emissions, including those from land-use change such as deforestation, have not yet peaked and rose to a record 55.3 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2018.
Countries face a 2020 deadline to set more ambitious emissions cut pledges. The report named the United States as one of several large emitters alongside Brazil and Japan falling short of its own targets, or Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). This month, the U.S. filed paperwork to exit the Paris pact in the first step of a formal withdrawal process.
Christensen said some of those that met their targets comfortably should tighten them significantly.