A new UN report, released ahead of next week's United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), states that the world's efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and thus curb climate change, are falling behind emission increases.
According to the UN Environment Program (UNEP), current carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have risen by around 20 per cent since 2000, and are now at over 391 parts per million (ppm) — 391 molecules of carbon dioxide per million molecules of air — compared to the 280 ppm in pre-industrial times. Overwhelming evidence points to the fact that this increase in carbon dioxide is enhancing climate change, pushing farther and faster than what occurs naturally, and this is changing our weather patterns, putting ecosystems at risk.
The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) agreed that limiting global temperature rise to just 2 degrees C over the pre-industrial level could prevent the worst consequences. Towards that goal, nations signed an agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and keep them at a maximum of 44 gigatons by 2020, however with little action so far, projections now put emissions at 58 gigatons by the end of this decade, a full 14 gigatons too high to guarantee the 2 degrees C limit.
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Even though emissions are currently increasing, and the gap between where we are at and where we need to be at keeps getting bigger, according to UNEP executive director Achim Steiner, there are still ways to make this work.
"There are many inspiring actions taking place at the national level," he said, according to the UK Daily Mail, "on energy efficiency in buildings, investing in forests to avoid emissions linked with deforestation and new vehicle emissions standards alongside a remarkable growth in investment in new renewable energies worldwide, which in 2011 totaled close to US$260 billion."
"Yet the sobering fact remains that a transition to a low-carbon, inclusive green economy is happening far too slowly and the opportunity for meeting the 44 Gt target is narrowing annually," he added.
The biggest advance we can make towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions, according to environmentalists, is to switch power generation from burning fossil fuels to solar and wind.
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UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres said: "This report is a reminder that time is running out, but that the technical means and the policy tools to allow the world to stay below a maximum 2 degrees Celsius are still available to governments and societies. Governments meeting in Doha for COP18 now need to urgently implement existing decisions which will allow for a swifter transition towards a low-carbon and resilient world. Governments need to urgently identify how ambition can be raised."