The world is heading in the wrong direction when it comes to fixing the planet's climate concerns, according to a new multi-agency report coordinated by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). While world powers have been continuously ramping up their pledges to go net-zero, the latest reports highlight a vast gulf between their aspirations and reality.
The United in Science 2022 report shows how levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases – including carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O) – continue to rise to record levels. Bouncing back after a brief hiatus due to COVID-19, greenhouse gas emissions have now risen to above pre-pandemic levels.
All of this means we're crashing passed the world’s climate targets. In the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015, the world set a goal to limit global warming to below 2°C (3.6°F), ideally 1.5°C (2.7°F), above pre-industrial levels.
That lower limit is now approaching fast. The report highlights how there is now a 48 percent chance that, during at least one year in the next five years, the annual mean temperature will temporarily be 1.5°C (2.7°C) higher than pre-industrial levels.
If the planet was to keep in line with the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Agreement, then emissions reduction pledges for 2030 need to be seven times higher than they currently stand. Simply put, the world isn’t doing nearly enough to avoid the catastrophic impacts of the climate crisis.
“Floods, droughts, heatwaves, extreme storms, and wildfires are going from bad to worse, breaking records with alarming frequency. Heatwaves in Europe. Colossal floods in Pakistan. Prolonged and severe droughts in China, the Horn of Africa, and the United States. There is nothing natural about the new scale of these disasters. They are the price of humanity’s fossil fuel addiction,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in a statement.
“This year’s United in Science report shows climate impacts heading into uncharted territory of destruction. Yet each year we double-down on this fossil fuel addiction, even as the symptoms get rapidly worse."
As this report shows, the impacts are being increasingly less abstract. The most recent seven years – 2015 to 2021 – were the warmest on record. Furthermore, there is a 93 percent probability that at least one year in the next five will be warmer than the warmest year on record, 2016.
By the end of the 21st century, there’s a 66 percent chance the global average temperature will reach 2.8°C (5.04°F) above pre-industrial levels, assuming governments stick to their current policies. Even if updated pledges are fully implemented, we’re likely to be looking at a 2.5°C (4.5°F) increase, according to the report.
Since we’re already passing the point of no return, the world must look to mitigate the damage as much as possible and look for ways we can adapt to the changing planet.
"This sobering report documents that our slow progress in restraining the growth of greenhouse gases means that the world will not be able to restrain global warming sufficiently to avoid at least some deleterious impacts. So, although efforts to slow emissions must continue and accelerate, we are left with the uncomfortable fact that we will have to adapt to the changing climate,” commented Emeritus Professor Neville Nicholls, an environment expert from Monash University, who was not directly involved in the report.