Off-target: greenhouse gases

The latest UN Environment Emissions Gap Report is alarming: unless nations increase their ambitions before 2030, exceeding the 1.5°C goal can no longer be avoided. In short, unprecedented and urgent action is required by all nations to ensure global warming stays well below 2°C and 1.5°C. Yet global CO2 emissions increased during 2017 following three years of stagnation. 

If nations follow their current path global warming will rise by a catastrophic 3°C by 2100, and warming will continue afterwards. And if the emissions gap – the difference between carbon reduction policies countries have in place and what is required to keep global warming to well below 2C – is not closed by 2030, the goal of a ‘well below’ 2°C temperature increase is most likely out of reach, the report read.

Rather than show signs of peaking, global greenhouse gas emissions from energy and industry increased in 2017, following a three-year period of stabilisation, with total annual greenhouse gases emissions, including from land-use change, reaching a record high of 53.5 GtCO2e in 2017. That’s an increase of 0.7 GtCO2e compared with 2016.

Global GHG emissions in 2030 need to be approximately 25 percent and 55 percent lower than in 2017 to put the world on a least-cost pathway to limiting global warming to 2°C and 1.5°C respectively.

The UN Emissions Gap report was released just prior to the commencement of COP24 talks in Poland which is aimed at implementing the “historic agreement” reached in Paris. But the reality, as reported by the UN, is that global emissions are rising, and so is the cost of emissions.

Most countries are not on target and Australia is one of the worst in this regard.

The UN reported on the lack of improvement in Australia’s climate policy since 2017, with emission levels for 2030 projected to be well above the NDC target.

“The latest projection published by the government shows that emissions would remain at high levels rather than reducing in line with the 2030 target.”

Speaking at COP24 UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres warned climate change is "the most important issue we face" and urged world leaders to take the threat of global warming seriously through bold actions to avert a catastrophic rise in temperatures before the end of the century.

 "Even as we witness devastating climate impacts causing havoc across the world, we are still not doing enough, nor moving fast enough, to prevent irreversible and catastrophic climate disruption," Guterres said.

He urged countries to cut their emissions 45 per cent from 2010 levels by 2030 and aim for net zero emissions by 2050.

"In short, we need a complete transformation of our global energy economy, as well as how we manage land and forest resources.

"This is the challenge on which this generation's leaders will be judged," Guterres said, mindful perhaps of Trump’s threat to withdraw the US from the agreement and Brazil’s new leader wanting to follow suit.

Sir David Attenborough who is a key figure at COP24 made headline news stating the "collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon" unless urgent action is taken against global warming.

He describes climate change as “the greatest threat in thousands of years” and blames humans for the man-made disaster of global scale.

"The world's people have spoken, their message is clear: time is running out … they want you, the decision makers, to act now," he said.

Australia’s emissions reduction target stands at 26 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030, and backed by the prime minister Australia’s environment minister Melissa Price insists the government has “the right mix of scalable policies to meet our 2030 targets”.

ALP climate spokesman Mark Butler strongly disagrees, stating “It is a slap in the face for Australians that the prime minister, environment minister and energy minister all repeat the lie that Australia will meet our Paris climate targets in a ‘canter’.”

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten who if voted in would lift the emissions reductions target to 45 per cent by 2030 has declared that a federal Labor government would create a Just Transition Authority to oversee Australia’s transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. He has also referred to a “renewable revolution” to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Which is what students across the country have been calling for in a series of peaceful protests, voicing concerns over the nation’s lack of action on climate change.

Last week hundreds of students lined up outside Parliament House and called for talks with Scott Morrison and government ministers about the need for urgent emergency action against climate change.

Twelve-year-old Riley cried out “The politicians aren’t helping and we need to take action to save our climate.

“You need to help us because this is our future,” he said.

Veronica Hester, a 15-year-old from Scott Morrison’s electorate in south Sydney wrote a heartfelt letter to the Age and SMH that read: “Despite our Prime Minister’s calls for students not to strike from school on Friday, we’re choosing to no longer be powerless. We will be striking with thousands of other students, to show we will not stand for our government’s inaction on climate change.

“Mr Morrison has condemned the strike, saying he does not support our schools being turned into parliaments. “More learning and less activism,” he said. If he and our politicians listened to the climate science we have been taught, and took action like those of us in school, we wouldn’t have to resort to strike action.

“In school, we have seen the raw truth of climate change: videos of our dead and dying Great Barrier Reef, increasingly shocking statistics, forecasts of a worrying future.

“Seeing this, we students do not shout at each other across the classroom. We sit in a shocked silence. Afterwards, we shout, with our signs and our demands.

“Because how can an educated person know all we know, and do nothing?”

It’s a question on the minds of most Australians.

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