UN climate report projects path into "uncharted territory of destruction"
A new United Nations report has delved into the widening gap between our aspirations in fighting climate change and the reality of the situation, and reinforced the notion that we are very much headed in the wrong direction. The report also warns of dangerous tipping points for climate systems and the extreme weather events that will result, with the world’s most vulnerable populations expected to suffer the most.
Called United in Science, the report is the handiwork of the UN’s Word Meteorological Organization and pulls together the most recent science around climate change. The report found that the last seven years were the warmest on record, and that greenhouse gas concentrations continue to climb to record highs. After a brief dip due to coronavirus-related lockdowns, fossil fuel emission rates have returned to their pre-pandemic highs.
The report also found that the ocean is warming at an accelerated rate, with strong increases seen in the past two decades. Around 90% of the accumulated heat in the Earth system is held in the ocean, and the ocean's heat content was higher between 2018 and 2022 than it was for any other five-year period on record.
It also calculates that the likelihood of the planet breaching the 1.5 °C (2.7 °F) increase above pre-industrial levels, as targeted in the Paris Agreement, is 48% in the next five years. Though the agreement relates to long-term warming, the frequency of individual years pushing through this threshold is only expected to increase in time.
As for turning things around, the report states that far more serious action is needed for the goals of the Paris Agreement to remain obtainable. Countries are falling well short of meeting their emissions reduction targets, and these national pledges need to be seven times higher to achieve the 1.5 °C target.
If we don’t, we’re in grave danger of setting off multiple climate tipping points, the report warns. These include the melting of the polar ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, weakening of key ocean currents that distribute heat and water, and drying of the Amazon rainforest. These could lead to significant changes to the climate system that we can’t reverse.
“Floods, droughts, heatwaves, extreme storms and wildfires are going from bad to worse, breaking records with alarming frequency,” said said UN Secretary-General António Guterres. “Heatwaves in Europe. Colossal floods in Pakistan. Prolonged and severe droughts in China, the Horn of Africa and the United States. There is nothing natural about the new scale of these disasters. They are the price of humanity’s fossil fuel addiction. This year’s United in Science report shows climate impacts heading into uncharted territory of destruction. Yet each year we double-down on this fossil fuel addiction, even as the symptoms get rapidly worse.”