Oh Crap, Major UN Climate Study Finds

A plane in front of the sun. It’s a metaphor.
A plane in front of the sun. It’s a metaphor.
Photo: AP (AP)

The United Nations (UN) has a new report out that says what many of us already know in our bones: The world is on fucking fire, and it’s going to get worse unless we act.

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The latest iteration of this warning comes in the form of the “United in Science” report, which brings together all the UN’s major climate groups to catch up humanity on the situation we’re currently in. It’s nice and all to get these progress reports on how much damage carbon pollution has done to the planet and how little time left we have to cut emissions and avert more chaos. But the title of this one rings hollow since, while the UN is nice and united, the world is anything but.

One of the key findings of the report is that while carbon emissions dipped in response to coronavirus lockdowns in the spring, they’re nearly back to pre-pandemic levels. Overall, this year will show anywhere from a 4% to 7% drop in emissions compared to 2019 depending on how the rest of the year plays out. The report is rosy, saying, “this range of emissions reductions we project for 2020 is similar to the magnitude in year-on-year reductions needed to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and well below 2 degrees Celsius, in line with the objectives of the Paris Agreement.”

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While hitting a 7% reduction this year would do that, the rebound effect in emissions we’re seeing as the year goes on is a worrying sign. The world needs to cut emissions more than 7% per year, every year this decade, according to yet another UN report released last year. Carbon emissions creeping back up as countries ease pandemic-related restrictions is an indication the world isn’t ready to do that.

Rather than transitioning the global economy to decouple from the fossil fuel industry, governments are trying to return to business as usual. Of the U.S., China, India, and the European Union—all major economies and top carbon emitters—only the EU has plunged coronavirus stimulus money into a green recovery at the scale needed. A report released last week by the Rhodium Group, a climate and economics firm, showed that the EU put aside a bit more than 20% of its stimulus funds for climate-related programs. China, the world’s biggest emitter, put just 1.9% of its stimulus into a green recovery. Meanwhile, the U.S., the world largest historical emitter by a long shot, committed a paltry 1.1% of the $2 trillion stimulus to addressing the climate.

This is the opposite of uniting in science. Frankly, it’s the opposite of acting about the crisis that’s in front of our very own eyes. To choose just a smattering of the evidence from the past month alone, the entire West Coast is on fire and so is the Arctic (fires there released a record amount of carbon dioxide), Canada’s last ice shelf collapsed, ice in the Bering Sea is at its lowest point in at least 5,500 years, land ice melt is on the trajectory of the worst-case scenario, and Louisiana saw its strongest hurricane on record.

Even if this whole science thing isn’t your shit, another report put out by the U.S. government itself on Wednesday warned that “climate change poses a major risk to the stability of the U.S. financial system and to its ability to sustain the American economy.”

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While I love to see science united, what I love even more is governments uniting to put science-backed policies in place. And unfortunately, those connections aren’t being forged fast enough right now. Or even at all.

Managing editor, Earther

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DISCUSSION

manicotti
Manic Otti

With the dire results of all these studies, it’s almost like we should actually be doing something instead of doing nothing.