The United Nations’ Environment Program released a rather dire report last week concluding that by 2030, global production of fossil fuels — extracted coal, oil and natural gas — would be more than double what we can safely consume if we hope to limit the most severe impacts from human-caused global warming.
In other words, rather than adopting policies and practices to slow the rise in global temperatures, humanity is essentially staying on the same suicidal course it’s been on for decades. And, of course, Trump administration policies seeking ever-more fossil fuel production in the U.S. are exactly opposite of what we need to do.
The Emissions Gap Report is the first U.N. effort to compare projected global emissions with the stated goals of the 2015 Paris agreement, in which world governments acknowledged the looming danger and pledged to take steps to limit emissions of greenhouse gases. The agreement, which aimed to limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, was shepherded by the Obama administration; President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the pact would leave the U.S., despite its key role in forging the agreement, as a global outlier, the sole country not a party to it.
The new report extrapolates from emissions data from the U.S. and seven other nations that account for 60% of global fossil fuel production. It also builds on an earlier report that projects that even if nations meet their current commitments under the Paris agreement, temperatures would still rise somewhere between
3 and 4 degrees Celsius.
There is no easy way to fix this, but there are some pretty clear steps that could be taken, including dropping tax breaks and subsidies for the fuels that are imperiling us, thus letting market prices more accurately reflect the true cost; changing the market itself by using government policies, including carbon taxes, to push a rapid global transition to renewable energy; and helping developing nations build renewable energy infrastructures.
And we must do this with a sense of urgency, and without deluding ourselves about the fate that awaits us if we do not.