Without drastic action, our planet is headed toward warming of 3.2 C in less than 100 years, according to a new report.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released its annual Emissions Gap Report on Tuesday — 168 pages, compiled by 57 leading scientists from 33 institutions across 25 countries — calling on governments to act immediately, within the next decade, to limit global warming to 1.5 C or 2 C by 2100.
"By now, we know all we need to know. The science is pretty clear, and very frightening," said Anne Olhoff, head of strategy, climate and planning and policy for the UNEP DTU (Technical University of Denmark) Partnership. "But we also know we have the technological options that are needed, at least to the short to medium term."
The report assesses scientific studies on both current greenhouse gas emissions and estimated future emissions, comparing them with possible reduction targets to avoid warming the world more than 1.5 to 2 C.
Some key highlights from the report include:
- Greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) have increased 1.5 percent annually over the past decade.
- By 2030, annual emissions need to be 15 gigatonnes of CO2 lower to reach the 2 C goal, and 32 gigatonnes lower for 1.5 C.
- GHG emissions have to drop by 2.7 percent per year from 2020 to 2030 for the 2 C goal, and by 7.6 percent per year for the 1.5 C target.
- To reach these goals, efforts must increase at least fivefold for the 1.5 C goal and threefold for the 2 C.
Gabriel Filippelli, a professor at the Purdue School of Science in Indianapolis, Ind., who was a senior science adviser for the U.S. State Department from 2013 to 2014, said that the difference between 2 C and 3.2 C warming may seem minor, but that's anything but the case.
"It seems mathematically like we're playing around with numbers, but they are profound numbers," Filippelli said.
And he doesn't take those numbers lightly. He knows each fraction of a degree the planet warms means dire consequences, particularly in countries most vulnerable.
"It's frankly terrifying to me largely because, once again, it'll be a case where those countries that are the least responsible for the root cause of this … who will be first impacted, and in a major way."