Scientists see world heading to 3°C warming

dry farm drought
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  • Earth has already warmed 1.1 degrees Celsius and will exceed 1.5°C by 2030
  • Intense weather events with serious consequences for food security predicted
  • Inaction by rich countries would lead to a trust deficit between countries

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[BONN] As developing countries push the implementation of the 2015 Paris Agreement, scientists and leaders at the UN-led climate talks underway in Germany say the world will fail to meet the key goal of limiting global average temperature rise to well under two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organisation, Petteri Taalas, says that given the trajectory of carbon emissions, the world could well see a temperature rise of three degrees Celsius before the end of the century.  
Data from the UK Met Office, NASA (US National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration indicate that the Earth has already warmed 1.1 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. China is the world’s top polluter, followed by the US, the European Union, India and Russia.

“If the emissions gap is left unplugged by 2030, the goal of keeping global warming to well below two degrees Celsius is unlikely to be achieved”

Henry Neufeldt, Technical University of Denmark


“This rise comes perilously close to the 1.5 degree Celsius limit of temperature increase, which the parties to the climate accord pledged they would pursue, while agreeing to hold the increase in temperature level to well below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels,” Taalas tells SciDev.Net at the 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP23) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which is hosted by Fiji but held in Bonn.   

Taalas predicts more intense and frequent extreme weather events, including climate change-caused paced sea-level rise, floods, hurricanes, cyclones, heat waves, droughts, extreme rainfall events, paced ice/glacial melt, and changes to agriculture that threaten food security, unless the world drastically cuts heat-trapping carbon emissions. 

The latest ‘Emissions Gap Report’ highlights that nationally-determined contributions (NDCs) submitted by the 169 countries under the Paris pact cover only about one-third of the emissions cut required by 2030 to meet climate targets in order that the world stays on course to meet the two degrees Celsius goal.  

“Even though the current NDCs are fully enforced, the carbon budget for limiting global warming to below two degrees Celsius (by mid-century) will be about 80 per cent depleted by 2030,” Carlos Alomia, a member of the Ecuador delegation, tells SciDev.Net, after attending the G77 and China UNFCCC plenary coordination meeting.
Henry Neufeldt, senior scientist at the Technical University of Denmark, informs SciDev.Net at the UNEP’s adaptation gap report launch that the gap of 8 – 13 gigatonnes of carbon emissions between reductions needed and national pledges made in Paris was alarmingly high. “If the emissions gap is left unplugged by 2030, the goal of keeping global warming to well below two degrees Celsius is unlikely to be achieved,” he says. 

Meanwhile, developing countries continue to complain that the rich nations are unenthusiastic about emission reduction or providing the finance for mitigation and address loss and damage even as Australia and the EU claim “insufficient evidence” that climate change is the singular cause of extreme weather events. 

“I have, as part of Like-Minded Developing Countries (LMDC), made concerns known during the plenary session and side events at the COP23 that rich countries are shifting their focus and responsibilities to developing countries for their post-2020 actions under the Paris accord,” Said Majid Shafiepour, spokesperson for the LMDCs, tells SciDev.Net.

India’s key negotiator at the talks and law minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad, warned that inaction by the rich nations on the pre-2020 commitments would lead to a trust deficit between rich and poor countries over the post-2030 climate actions by the developed countries under the Paris Agreement. 

The pre-2020 actions refer to existing obligations under the Kyoto Protocol where only rich nations are obliged to take mitigation (emission cut) actions. Conversely, the post-2020 actions say that all countries should take actions under the Paris Agreement. The developed countries had in 2012 agreed to undertake their aggregate emission cuts by at least 18 per cent below the 1990 levels, but are yet to ratify the decision.  

India’s stand was supported by negotiators from other developing countries including China, Iran and Pakistan. Switzerland, though representing the developed nations under the Environmental Integrity Group, also backed the LMDC in pushing for greater pre-2020 actions.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Asia & Pacific desk.