We're 'Nowhere Near on Track' to Meeting Our Climate Change Goals, UN Report Says

Trying to stop the planet from warming more than 1.5 degrees Celsius is “extremely improbable,” expert says.

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Sep 27 2018, 7:45pm

Image: Flickr/Rubén Moreno Montolíu

It’s been almost two years since the Paris Climate Agreement went into effect, and the planet’s climate change goals are “nowhere near on track,” a new United Nations report says.

Achieving our common goal of preventing the Earth from warming any more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures is unlikely, according to a climate scientist and co-author of the report set to be unveiled at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change meeting next month.

“It’s extraordinarily challenging to get to the 1.5C target and we are nowhere near on track to doing that,” Drew Shindell, a Duke University climate scientist and co-author of the report, told The Guardian. “While it’s technically possible, it’s extremely improbable, absent a real sea change in the way we evaluate risk. We are nowhere near that.”

The Paris Agreement is an international convention that seeks to limit the increase in global average temperature. Right now, we're already more than 1 degree C above pre-industrial temperatures (the average temperatures prior to the 1900s), and rising, but this treaty aims to prevent the global average temperature from warming beyond 1.5 degree C—and never reach 2 degree C—above pre-industrial levels. It seeks to do this by having each participant country (reminder, that’s every single country on the planet other than the United States) set their own plan, called a nationally determined contribution, on how it will achieve certain goals to reduce fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

But ahead of the major intergovernmental meeting in South Korea in mid October, Shindell says the likelihood of reaching that goal are dim. It would require not only basically cutting out our use of fossil fuels like coal and the immediate integration of renewable energy sources, but also we’d basically have to ban all cars, trucks, and airplanes, and then somehow clean a bunch of lingering carbon from the atmosphere, he told The Guardian.

“The penetration rate of new technology historically takes a long time,” Shindell said. “It’s not simple to change these things. There aren’t good examples in history of such rapid, far-reaching transitions.”

It’s disappointing news, but not the end of the story. The bigger goal of the Paris Agreement—avoiding the risk of a 2 degree increase—is still in reach, and even more pressing as we face the likelihood of missing our more ambitious goal. The fact remains that a 1.5 degree C planet is better off than a 2 degree C planet, and it’s more important to double down now than ever.