Third Report Warns that Leaders' Lack of Action Is Locking In Worst Consequences of Climate Change

Published Nov 21, 2012

WASHINGTON (November 21, 2012) – A string of recent reports paints a clear picture that the world is not on track to fulfill leaders’ stated goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees C (3.6 F) above pre-industrial levels, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

“The alarm bells scientists have been ringing for years are turning into a chorus,” said Alden Meyer, Director of Strategy and Policy at UCS. “World leaders set a goal of avoiding 2 degrees of warming, but the commitments they’ve made to meet that goal are inadequate. Without much more aggressive action, we will lose the fight to avert the worst consequences of climate change.”

A United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) report released today says that countries aren’t doing enough to keep the world from warming 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels. Even if they met the most ambitious versions of current pledges, the report concludes, emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in 2020 will be about 52 gigatons (Gt) -- some 8 Gt more than is needed to have a “likely” chance of keeping temperature increases below 2 degrees C. The gap could be as high as 13 Gt if more lenient assumptions about current pledges are used. For comparison, current emissions are about 50 Gt per year. This projected gap for 2020 is 2 Gt higher than in last year's UNEP report.

“Not only are nations failing to close the gap between their actions and the 2 degrees goal,” Meyer said, “but the gap is actually widening.”

The UNEP report echoes two others:

--Last week, the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2012 concluded, “if action to reduce CO2 emissions is not taken before 2017, all the allowable CO2 emissions would be locked-in by energy infrastructure existing at that time.” The agency found that two-thirds of known fossil fuel reserves would have to stay in the ground to retain the possibility of limiting warming to no more than 2 degrees.

--Earlier this week, the World Bank issued a climate report that said without further action, “the world is likely to warm by more than 3 degrees C [5.4 F] above the preindustrial climate.” It further found, “Even with the current mitigation commitments and pledges fully implemented, there is roughly a 20 percent likelihood of exceeding 4 degrees C by 2100. If they are not met, a warming of 4 degrees C could occur as early as the 2060s.”

Exceeding a 2 degree C increase in global temperatures would exacerbate already evident effects of climate change, including ocean acidification, rising sea levels and coastal inundation, droughts, and more frequent and severe heat waves. The World Bank report, in particular, warns of the severe consequences for developing countries, including damage to coastal cities, water shortages and crop failure.

World leaders will again convene for a United Nations climate summit in Doha, Qatar later this month.