Two recent UN reports paint a grim outlook for the world’s climate and its impact on humanity. Released last fall, the Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC) and The Emissions Gap Report 2019 were issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). Together, the reports indicate that the world’s ecosystems and climate are already undergoing dramatic change as a result of greenhouse gas emissions, and that all parties to the Paris Agreement have failed to halt emission growth to date.
According to the SROCC, ice is rapidly melting around the world. This season alone, Greenland lost more than 250 billion tons of ice. That’s enough water to sate global demand for more than 40 years. Last summer, a record heat wave in the Arctic caused major glacial runoff and melted sea ice to its second-lowest recorded level. Arctic sea ice has shrunk 40% since 1979, which has caused coastal erosion, reduced wildlife habitat, and negatively affected indigenous populations. If large ice losses continue, sea levels could rise more than 3 feet by the end of this century, and exceed 10 feet by 2200 or 2300. Even in the best case scenario, by 2050, severe flooding will happen every year in many cities, including Los Angeles, Miami, Savannah, Honolulu, San Juan, Key West, and San Diego.
Meanwhile, global emissions have climbed 1.5% per year over the past decade. If current trends continue, by 2030, emission levels could be double what is needed to limit global warming to 1.5°C, and temperatures worldwide may increase by as much as 4°C by the end of the century. In that world, severe heat waves would be more frequent, drinking water would be scarcer, food production would be at greater risk, and hundreds of millions of people would be displaced from their homes.
To escape the catastrophic effects of climate change, emissions must be reduced by 7.6% each year between 2020 and 2030, or five times what was established by the Paris Agreement. Put another way, the world will have to cut its emissions in half by 2030, reach net-zero emissions by 2050, and afterwards, take more CO2 out of the air than all countries put in. If action is postponed further, countries will have to reduce carbon emissions at a rate that is not possible with present technology and resources.
Ultimately, these actions and investments are necessary to maintain global stability, and fundamental changes to almost every sector of society will be needed. Although the US has begun to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, the NYLCV will continue to advocate for programs that reduce emissions at the federal and state level, as well as policies that uphold states’ ability to combat climate change.