UN calls for behaviour change to tackle rising temperatures

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“Without changing course, we are heading towards a calamitous three-degree Celsius temperature rise by the end of the century”. That was the stark warning issued by the United Nations Secretary General after a visit to Antarctica just days ahead of a key United Nations Climate Change Conference in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

The 2023 Emissions Gap Report, released a week earlier, finds that current pledges under the Paris Agreement put the world on track to warm by between 2.5 and 2.9 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels – way above the internationally agreed 1.5 degrees Celsius threshold – that could spell disaster for the planet and its inhabitants.

After a recent visit to Antarctica, where he saw firsthand how climate change was impacting the world’s southernmost continent and the devastating impacts of a warming planet with antarctic sea ice at an all-time low, figures showing that it was 1.5 million square kilometers smaller than the average for this time of year.

UN Chief Antonio Guterres says, “That matters for us all. What happens in Antarctica doesn’t stay in Antarctica. We live in an interconnected world. Melting sea ice means rising seas. And that directly endangers lives and livelihoods in coastal communities across the globe. Floods and saltwater intrusion imperil crops and drinking water – threatening food and water security. Homes are no longer insurable. Coastal cities and entire small islands risk being lost to the seas.  And vital natural systems are at risk of being disrupted.”

The Emissions Gap Report finds that global greenhouse gas emissions increased by 1.2% from 2021 to 2022 with a clarion call to countries that collectively they have to cut their emissions by 42% by the end of the decade to keep the 1.5 degree limit in reach.

“The cause of all this destruction is clear:  The fossil fuel pollution coating the earth and heating the planet. Without changing course, we’re heading towards a calamitous three-degree Celsius temperature rise by the end of the century. Sea surface temperatures are already at record highs. If we continue as we are, and I strongly hope we will not, the Greenland and West Antarctica ice sheets will cross a deadly tipping point. This alone would ultimately push up sea levels by around ten meters.  We are trapped in a deadly cycle.”

COP28 will focus on key areas – first, an overview of countries’ progress towards meeting the 2015 Paris Agreement’s benchmarks; the future of fossil fuels and the case for phasing out the use of coal; the role of emissions-abatement technologies, boosting renewable energy capacities in the energy mix and the question of predictable financing for developing countries including the creation of a loss and damage fund – as Guterres explains.

“At COP28, which starts later this week, leaders must break this cycle. The solutions are well known. Leaders must act to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, protect people from climate chaos, and end the fossil fuel age. We need a global commitment to triple renewables, double energy efficiency, and bring clean power to all, by 2030. We need a clear and credible commitment to phase out fossil fuels in a timeframe that aligns with the 1.5-degree limit. And we need climate justice – setting the world up for a huge increase in investment in adaptation and loss and damage to protect people from climate extremes.”

The Emissions Gap Report warns that the world is witnessing a disturbing acceleration in the number, speed, and scale of broken climate change records with this past September the hottest month ever, exceeding the previous record by a whopping 0.5 degrees Celsius. The report says it is clear that due to the failure to stringently reduce emissions in high-income and high-emitting countries which bear the greatest responsibility for past emissions, and the failure to limit emissions growth in low and middle-income countries, which account for the majority of current emissions, unprecedented action is needed by all countries. Those tensions are likely to be front and centre when delegates gather in the Arabian Desert.