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Climate change prevention plans 'way off track', says UN

To stay under threshold of 1.5°C of warming, the world needs to work seven times harder, says the UN's WMO

The world quickly undid emissions reductions that were an unintended perk of the COVID-19 pandemic, leading a multi-organizational UN group to issue a bleak warning: we need to be working seven times harder to meet climate change goals.

The United In Science 2022 report from the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said that, despite a litany of pledges from countries promising to halve their carbon outputs by 2030 in line with the Paris Agreement, little is being accomplished. 

"Climate science is clear: we are heading in the wrong direction," the WMO said

Paris in the rear-view mirror

According to the report, carbon emissions now exceed pre-pandemic levels, suggesting that emissions are getting worse, not better. To compound the issue, reduction in emissions during the pandemic had little impact on the growth of atmospheric concentrations of CO2, which refers to the amount remaining in the atmosphere after plants and the ocean have absorbed their part. 

The world's oceans, which store some 90 percent of Earth's accumulated heat, may be reaching the extent of what they're capable of, too.  Per the report, ocean heat content in the years stretching from 2018 and 2022 was higher than any other five-year period.  The WMO said that the growth in ocean heat has been particularly fast in the past two decades. 

The Paris Agreement's stated goal is to keep the world from warming up more than another 1.5°C (2.7°F) above pre-industrial levels, which is where the sevenfold figure cited earlier comes from: if the 1.5°C goal is to be met, carbon reduction rates need to be seven times faster. 

If the world is to prevent itself from breaking a 2°C of warming threshold, the Paris Agreement's fallback plan, decarbonization efforts still need to be four times more ambitious than they are today, the report said. 

If current policies are maintained, the report said that there's a 66 percent chance that global warming could increase by a mean of 2.8°C, although that would be reduction to 2.5°C "if new or updated pledges are fully implemented." This isn't a problem in one country, the WMO said, but a collective failure. 

The effects of climate change continue to be felt around the world. In just the past few months, a severe UK heatwave knocked out Google and Oracle datacenters and left NHS systems offline, while California's government told residents not to charge EVs due to heat-related stress on the grid – and China shut down factories in Sichuan for the same reason.

"Floods, droughts, heatwaves, extreme storms and wildfires are going from bad to worse, breaking records with alarming frequency. They are the price of humanity's fossil fuel addiction," said UN secretary-general António Guterres.

With prevention slipping out of reach, the report shifts its conclusion to discussing adaptations to climate change, like early warning systems for extreme weather. The UN said it's launching an initiative to deploy early warning systems globally in the next five years – not exactly a reassuring sign for those hoping to meet climate change goals. ®

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