In a report that the New York Times describes as “bleak,” the United Nations has warned that the world is headed towards climate catastrophes, as the world’s biggest polluters, the United States and China, have expanded their carbon footprint last year. Even countries that have pledged to substantially reduce carbon emissions have failed to do so to an extent that would prevent Earth’s temperature from increasing by 2 degrees celsius, a change that scientists around the world argue would have disastrous consequences on civilization and the nature of life on the planet. As such, the report urges the world’s 20 richest countries, including the world’s richest country, the United States, to take immediate and profound action to cut greenhouse gas emissions and switch to renewable energy. This is a tall order, particularly considering the fact that the US is currently in the process of withdrawing from the Paris accord and does not officially recognize the existence of climate change.
According to the annual assessment, global greenhouse emissions have increased by 1.5 percent every year this decade, a trend which must be reversed in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change. If this change is not made promptly, the U.N. predicts that increasingly intense droughts, stronger storms, and widespread food insecurity can be expected. Another organization, the World Meteorological Organization, separately produced a report with similar findings, which found a steady increase in the rate of man-made CO2 emissions since the start of the nineteenth century.
While nearly every country in the world pledged to reduce carbon emissions drastically four years ago under the Paris Agreement, many countries, including some of the world’s greatest offenders, have so far failed to meet their own goals. Even if every country fulfills the goals they set for themselves as part of the agreement, however, global temperatures are still predicted to increase by 3.2 degrees Celsius, endangering billions of people and presenting potentially apocalyptic consequences in the long term. As such, the U.N.’s call for immediate drastic action is at once dire and warranted, given the reality of the problem as exposed by global scientific consensus.
While the findings of the most recent U.N. report, among others, seem bleak, there is reason for optimism in the fact that technologies to reduce emissions drastically already exist, but require extensive political willpower to deploy at the necessary scale. In order to meet universally agreed-upon climate targets, the world will have to replace the combustion of fossil fuels, in particular coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel, with renewable forms of energy like solar and wind. Furthermore, people will need to move away from gas-powered vehicles, replacing them either with public transportation infrastructure or electric cars. And other technologies, such as carbon-recapture systems, are currently in development and may one day reverse some of the consequences of carbon emissions.
However, many countries are not taking the necessary steps to prevent catastrophe in the UN’s eyes. Canada, for instance, has pledged to reduce carbon emissions within their own borders but has expanded fossil-fuel production for sale in other countries, and sales of inefficient gas-powered S.U.V.s around the world have increased. That being said, things are moving in the right direction, albeit very slowly. Renewable energy is expanding rapidly, though not nearly as fast as needed, and coal use is declining due to both climate concerns and economic factors. And the political action necessary to persuade world leaders to combat climate change more aggressively is underway, as millions of young people around the world have taken to the streets to demand change. Though climate change skeptics will tell you otherwise otherwise, this political action, in addition to investments and deployments of climate-friendly technologies, has the potential to determine the fate of civilization itself.