World on track to miss emissions ‘turning point’ for tackling climate change

‘Reaching many of the milestones is still technically feasible, but whether they are met will require exponential changes in policy, investment action and also mindset and behaviour’

Josh Gabbatiss
Science Correspondent
Wednesday 13 February 2019 06:01 GMT
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The world is not on track to meet the greenhouse gas “turning point” required to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change, experts have warned.

Inadequate progress has been made in shutting down coal plants, preventing deforestation and switching to electric cars, meaning emissions are unlikely to peak next year.

Experts agree that stabilising global warming below 1.5C beyond pre-industrial levels is crucial to avoid the worst results climate change including coral reef extinction and the devastation of coastal communities.

However, getting there will require unprecedented changes to every aspect of society, and climate analysts have previously identified 2020 as the year when emissions need to start falling to achieve this target.

But despite some progress in renewable energy development and climate investments around the world, the World Resources Institute (WRI) think tank concluded in a new report that this is unlikely to happen.

The group previously identified six key areas that need to be revolutionised to achieve the ambitious target of a 2020 turning point. These sectors were energy, transport, land use, industry, infrastructure and finance.

“Progress is uneven across the six milestones ... in most cases action is insufficient or progress is off track,” the report’s authors wrote.

This target was initially established by the Mission2020 coalition, which was launched by ex-UN climate chief Christiana Figueres in partnership with scientists and NGOs.

When they initially laid out their plans in 2017, there was room for cautious optimism as massive declines in coal use across the US and China had caused CO2 pollution to level off.

However, since then emissions have begun to rise again, and the new WRI report reveals that many of the goals set by the coalition three years ago are not close to being realised.

One target was for a fifth of new car sales being electric by 2020, and while there has been some progress towards this goal it is still expected to fall far short at around 3 per cent.

Another ambitious goal was for heavy industries such as steel and cement production to be on track for compliance with the Paris agreement, meaning halving emissions by 2050.

These industries produce enormous amounts of pollutants, but have proven difficult to decarbonise, and progress here has also fallen far short of the 2020 target.

In particular, the authors warned that all coal-fired power plants must be retired, and the enormous scale of deforestation that is removing some of the planet’s biggest carbon sinks must come to an end.

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There has also been a failure to ramp up agricultural practices that both reduce CO2 emissions and increase the quantity of CO2 being sucked from the atmosphere by farmland.

“The report shows the pockets of significant activity where there is an opportunity to scale up and accelerate action, and we found there are many opportunities that remain untapped,” Kelly Levin, one of the report’s authors, told The Independent.

“Reaching many of the milestones is still technically feasible, but whether they are met will require exponential changes in policy, investment action and also mind set and behaviour.”

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