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Landmark U.N. climate report: Emissions rising fast after COVID-19 lull

Landmark U.N. climate report: Emissions rising fast after COVID-19 lull
The new report "is an alarming appraisal of just how far off course we are," U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in the landmark assessment on Thursday. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

Sept. 16 (UPI) -- After a temporary respite in 2020 due to disruptions caused by COVID-19, global carbon emissions are again quickly rising and the measurements are nowhere near targets set out in the Paris Climate Agreement, the United Nations said in a landmark report Thursday.

The World Meteorological Organization's United in Science 2021 report, a 32-page assessment compiling the latest climate updates, says greenhouse gas concentrations -- which are at their highest levels in 3 million years -- continue to rise and are reaching record highs this year.

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The study notes that climate change worldwide has advanced "relentlessly" and that average global temperatures over the past five years were the highest on record and will continue to rise -- leading to higher sea levels and threatening coastal populations.

"This is a critical year for climate action," U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says in a foreword to the report. "The result [of the study] is an alarming appraisal of just how far off course we are."

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The assessment says rising temperatures are fueling extreme weather events and impacting economies, resulting in a greater number of costly weather disasters -- such as Hurricane Ida, which devastated parts of Louisiana and killed dozens of people in the Northeast earlier this month.

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"Throughout the pandemic we have heard that we must 'build back better' to set humanity on a more sustainable path and to avoid the worst impacts of climate change on society and economies," said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.

"This report shows that so far in 2021, we are not going in the right direction."

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"This year has seen fossil fuel emissions bounce back, greenhouse gas concentrations continuing to rise and severe human-enhanced weather events that have affected health, lives and livelihoods on every continent," Guterres added.

"Unless there are immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius will be impossible, with catastrophic consequences for people and the planet on which we depend."

Thursday's report came ahead of the U.N. Climate Change Conference, COP26, which is scheduled for Scotland next month.

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"Time is running out," Guterres said. "We need all countries to commit to net zero emissions by 2050 ... a breakthrough on protecting people and their livelihoods, with at least half of all public climate finance committed to building resilience and helping people adapt.

"And we need much greater solidarity, including full delivery of the longstanding climate finance pledge to help developing countries take climate action. There is no alternative if we are to achieve a safer, more sustainable and prosperous future for all."

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Thursday's update came about a month after a report by the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change, which said global temperatures in a decade will probably surpass a dangerous level and produce longer heat waves, heavier precipitation, more frequent and sustained droughts and stronger tropical cyclones.

The IPCC report, however, also notes that there still is time to avoid other potentially catastrophic climate impacts, with a coordinated and sustained global effort.

COP26 will run from Oct. 31 through Nov. 12 in Glasgow, Scotland.

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