United Nations Secretary General António Guterres warned the world is “not on track” to limit global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
Speaking in New Zealand Sunday morning ahead of traveling to Tuvalu, Vanuatu, and Fiji — nations among the most vulnerable to climate change — Guterres said: “Climate change is running faster than what we are… the last four years have been the hottest registered.”
Indeed, according to data released in February by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the past five years (2014-2018) have been the hottest years ever recording in NOAA’s 139 years of tracking global temperatures. And with more intense hurricanes, wildfires, droughts, and flooding, the impacts of climate change are already being felt around the world.
Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, 195 nations agreed to take action to limit global warming “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) this century, “and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius [2.7 degrees Fahrenheit].”
So far, global temperatures have already increased by 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) since the Industrial Revolution.
And according to the latest U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released last fall, under the current emissions path the world will cross the 1.5 degrees threshold by 2040; and absent significantly stronger global action the world will surpass the 2 degrees target two decades after that.
Global warming beyond these targets would risk triggering irreversible climate tipping points including the collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet and with it dangerous sea level rise, along with melting permafrost — this frozen Arctic tundra stores carbon dioxide and methane, emissions which would be released into the atmosphere if it melts, further triggering even more warming.
Scientists in the IPCC report warned that in order to avert this dangerous warming urgent action must be taken to sharply reduce carbon emissions by 2030.
Guterres’ statement comes after he warned last week in an interview with the Associated Press (AP) that countries must stop building new coal plants otherwise the world will face “total disaster.”
In September, world leaders will convene, Guterres said, and he plans to tell them “they need to do much more in order for us to be able to reverse the present trends and to defeat the climate change.”
In addition to no more coal by 2020, Guterres will call upon leaders to take action to end fossil fuel subsidies, put a price on the use of carbon, and ensure that by 2050 the level of greenhouse gas emissions that are released into the atmosphere is less than what nature is able to remove (such as through trees, soils, or oceans absorbing carbon dioxide).
Echoing the call made by the world’s leading scientists in the IPCC report, Guterres told the AP that the goals under the Paris climate agreement don’t go far enough.
If countries do only what they promised under this accord the world will warm by another 2.5 degrees Celsius (4.5 degrees Fahrenheit) said Guterres. Many countries, however, aren’t on track to meet their Paris targets while the United States under President Donald Trump has said it will withdraw from the global accord and is actively pursuing efforts to rollback environmental protections.
“That is why,” Guterres said, “we need to dramatically accelerate… what everybody knows needs to be done.”