UN: Climate refugees and avoidable human tragedy on tap unless we go beyond Paris Agreement

Greenhouse gas emissions are on track to far exceed safe levels by 2030(Credit: Depositphotos/VanderWolf-Images)

The Paris Agreement on climate action was a landmark moment in a few ways. A record number of countries pledged to keep global temperatures from rising 2° C (3.6° F) above pre-industrial levels this century, to prepare for the impacts of climate change and to help developing nations build clean energy futures. But just as the agreement enters into force today, the UN has declared the need to go above and beyond the commitments made in Paris, with the projected carbon emissions for the year 2030 leaving us little chance of keeping warming to safe levels.

The 2° C threshold was settled upon because scientists believe that it will minimize the risk of more intense storms, flooding, sea-level rise, decimated agriculture and the loss of ecosystems, among other catastrophes. The Paris Agreement also implored governments to aim for a safer level of 1.5° C, which would reduce the danger even further. A total of 195 countries have signed onto the Paris Agreement, with 85 of those ratifying it so far. This is promising progress, but the UN's annual Emissions Report released yesterday suggests we still need to move a lot faster.

To have a chance of keeping warming below 2° C, global greenhouse gas emissions in the year 2030 need to be kept to 42 gigatons, according to current projections. The report reveals that we are currently on track for 54 to 56 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2030, which will bring about temperature rises of 2.9 to 3.4° C (5.22° F to 6.12° F) by the end of the century.

Here's a few examples of what the conservative end of that estimate could mean, according to the World Research Institute and based on data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Compared to the 1980s, the 2080s will see 26 percent more people face reduced groundwater resources and six times as many people experience 100-year floods. At the more extreme end, agriculture production and global food security could be so severely impacted that we are unable to adapt.

And that's not to mention an anticipated increase in the severity of other natural disasters. With the UN's Marrakech Climate Change Conference set to kick off on Monday, it is urging the world to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent more than those pledged in Paris, and it hopes its recent findings will place the need to take swifter action firmly on the agenda.

"If we don't start taking additional action now, beginning with the upcoming climate meeting in Marrakesh, we will grieve over the avoidable human tragedy," said Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment. "The growing numbers of climate refugees hit by hunger, poverty, illness and conflict will be a constant reminder of our failure to deliver. The science shows that we need to move much faster."

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