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Paris Agreement not enough to stop climate change, UN says

Despite the Paris Climate Agreement coming into force today, the world might still be doomed to suffer from rising seas and temperatures, a UN report says.

In its annual Emission Gap report, UN Environment says governments must urgently and dramatically increase their ambitions to cut roughly a further quarter off predicted 2030 global greenhouse emissions if they want to have any chance of minimising climate change impacts.

Made public the day before the Paris Agreement comes into force, the report finds that 2030 emissions are expected to reach 54 to 56 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, far above the level of 42 needed to have a chance of limiting global warming to 2°C this century.

One gigatonne is roughly equivalent to the emissions generated by transport, including aviation, in the EU over a year.

Scientists agree that limiting global warming to under 2°C this century compared to pre-industrial levels will reduce the likelihood of more intense storms, longer droughts, sea-level rise, and other severe climate impacts.

Even hitting the lower target of 1.5°C, scientists say, will only reduce rather than eliminate impacts.

The predicted 2030 emissions will, even if the Paris pledges are fully implemented, place the world on track for a temperature rise of 2.9 to 3.4°C this century.

Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment, considers the Paris Agreement is a move in the right direction and shows “strong commitment”, but is not good enough to avoid serious climate change.

"If we don't start taking additional action now, beginning with the upcoming climate meeting in Marrakesh, we will grieve over the avoidable human tragedy,” Solheim said in a statement.

“The growing numbers of climate refugees hit by hunger, poverty, illness, and conflict will be a constant reminder of our failure to deliver. The science shows that we need to move much faster."

‘Need for urgent action’

The need for urgent action has been reinforced by the fact that 2015 was the hottest year since modern record keeping began and the trend is continuing, with the first six months of 2016 all being the warmest ever recorded, the report says.

The Kigali Amendment to the UN Environment-hosted Montreal Protocol, agreed last month, aims to slash the use of hydrofluorocarbons.

Early studies indicate this could cut another 0.5°C if fully implemented, although emissions will not begin to be reduced at any significant rate until 2025.

Also, while members of the G20 are collectively on track to meet their Cancun climate pledges for 2020, these pledges fall short of creating a sufficiently ambitious starting point to align with the temperature target of the Paris Agreement.

Renewable energy

However, the Gap report presents an assessment of the technologies and opportunities to find the further cuts required, including through non-state actors, energy efficiency acceleration, and crossover with sustainable development goals.

Non-state actors (the private sector, cities, regions and other subnational actors like citizen groups) can cut several gigatonnes off the gap by 2030 in areas such as agriculture and transport, provided the many initiatives meet their goals and do not replace other action.

Energy efficiency is another area where investment could bring bigger gains. Investments in energy efficiency increased by 6 per cent to US$221 billion in 2015, indicating that action is already happening.

Studies show that for an investment of between 20 and 100 US$ per tonne of carbon dioxide, energy efficiency emissions reduction potentials (in gigatonnes) by 2030 are 5.9 for buildings, 4.1 for industry and 2.1 for transport.

A new report released by the 1 Gigaton Coalition shows that renewable energy and energy efficiency projects implemented in developing countries from 2005 to 2015 will reduce emissions by almost half a gigatonne by 2020, including action by countries that do not have formal Cancun pledges.