UN report card: Carbon-emissions cuts are way behind schedule

Stylized image of two industries side by side: one is dirty, the other renewable.

Enlarge (credit: UNEP)

While the world’s nations have been in agreement for some time that we should limit global warming to no more than 2°C (or even 1.5°C), action has fallen short of ambition. As such, this week saw the 10th annual UN Emissions Gap Report—an update on the gap between our current greenhouse gas emissions and the cuts that would set us up to meet those goals.

When someone who is trying to lose weight steps on a scale and sees a higher number than yesterday, it’s not very encouraging. That’s where we find ourselves. The report puts 2018 human-caused greenhouse gas emissions at the equivalent of 55.3 billion tons of CO2—our highest yet. (This method combines all greenhouse gases into one number.)

The factors driving a country’s emissions can be described by GDP (Gross Domestic Product), the energy used per unit of GDP, and the greenhouse gas emitted per unit energy. The wealthiest (OECD) nations are averaging about 2% economic growth, while the rest of the world is averaging 4.5%. Those two categories of nations are reducing energy per unit GDP at about the same rate, so energy use barely increased among the wealthiest nations but increased 2.8% among the others. As a result, much of the recent increase in emissions has obviously come from developing economies.

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