Only complete and rapid system change can avert climate catastrophe

Each year, the intensifying climate crisis brings more pain and suffering to hundreds of millions of people around the world. The only way out of this climate crisis and avert an accelerating catastrophe is to launch an urgent system-wide transformation of our economies and societies. Yet, as the 2022 edition of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) “Emissions Gap Report” shows, countries are not making progress.

At last year’s Glasgow climate summit, known as COP26, nations signed a declaration calling for climate commitments that would lead to deeper and faster reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Did it happen? The answer is a resounding “no”. Collectively, the updated commitments since COP26 reduce projected emissions for 2030 by less than 1%. where they should be that year remains huge.

This leaves us heading for a temperature increase of 2.4 to 2.8 degrees Celsius by 2100, depending on whether we analyze unconditional national climate commitments, conditional national climate commitments or current policies. Right now we’re in a world 1.1 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures. Look what it brought to Pakistan recently: an apocalyptic flood and more than 30 million people affected. Temperature increases within the range predicted by this report will not give us floods unique to Pakistan. They will give us annual floods, storms and heat waves across the world. They will give us dying ecosystems and species. They will give us more hunger, more thirst, more migration, more pain.

To avoid this future, we must achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement. To be on track to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, we need to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions we can expect by 2030 by 45% based on the policies currently in place. To keep global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius, the challenge is still daunting: 30% by 2030. Beyond 2030, emissions must continue to fall rapidly to avoid depleting the remaining atmospheric carbon budget .

If we really want to get there, we need to initiate system-wide transformation, now.

In the electricity supply, industry, transport and construction sectors, we must avoid blocking new fossil fuel-intensive infrastructure. We need to advance zero-carbon technologies, market structures and planning for just transformation. We need to apply zero emissions technology and behavioral changes to sustain reductions and ultimately achieve zero emissions.

In food systems, we need to act on protecting natural ecosystems, dietary changes, improving food production and decarbonizing food supply chains, while ensuring food security for all. Action in these four areas can reduce emissions from food systems predicted for 2050 to around one-third of current levels.

The financial system must become an enabler, rather than an impediment, to the transformation to a low-carbon economy, which requires annual investments of at least $4 trillion to $6 trillion per year. This is a relatively small share (1.5-2%) of total financial assets under management, but significant (20-28%) in terms of additional annual resources required. Providing such finance will require making financial markets more efficient, introducing carbon pricing, creating markets for low-carbon technologies by shifting financial flows, mobilizing central banks and much more.

Many people will say that cannot be done in the next eight years. I say give it a try. Even if we don’t get there by 2030, every fraction of a degree matters for vulnerable communities, endangered species and ecosystems – and eventually for our own livelihoods. We will achieve a carbon-neutral future: a future that allows us to reduce temperature overshoots and provide many other social and environmental benefits, such as clean air, green jobs and universal access to water. energy.

Many will also say that we are too busy managing other crises to transform our economies. I say that these other crises are opportunities to reform our economies. We missed the opportunity to meaningfully invest in a low-carbon recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Now we risk missing the closing window to boost clean and efficient energy in response to the energy crisis. Instead of missing such opportunities, we must seize them with confidence.

I urge every nation, every government, to consider the solutions presented in this report and incorporate them into their climate commitments. I urge the private sector to start reworking their practices. I urge all investors, public and private, to invest their capital in a net zero world. This is the only way to launch a system-wide transformation across the globe. And it is the only way to get rid of the veil of greenhouse gases that is slowly burning our planet and jeopardizing the future of humanity.

inger Andersen is Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).

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