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World not doing nearly enough to stop 'catastrophic' global warming, UN report warns

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  • Five years since the adoption of the Paris Agreement, the world is still far from meeting its climate goals.
  • The report measures the gap between Paris Agreement goals and countries’ planned production of coal, oil and gas.
  • COVID-19 recovery funds have been disproportionately allocated to fossil fuel development.

We've got to do a better job of stopping global warming, a new report says.

The report, released Wednesday by the United Nations and several other research groups, says the world isn't doing nearly enough to rein in fossil fuel production to the level that's needed to halt "catastrophic" levels of global warming.

In fact, countries around the world are poised to pump out over 120% more fossil fuels than needed to meet the Paris Climate Agreement. The report said that to meet the Paris goals, countries would need to wind down fossil fuel production by 6% a year over the coming decade.

"Five years since the adoption of the Paris Agreement, the world is still far from meeting its climate goals," Inger Andersen, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme, said in the report.

"This year’s devastating forest fires, floods and droughts and other unfolding extreme weather events serve as powerful reminders for why we must succeed in tackling the climate crisis," she said.

President Donald Trump formally withdrew the U.S. from the Paris Agreement in November, but President-elect Joe Biden has said the U.S. would rejoin the accord on his first day in office. 

The report, launched in 2019, measures the gap between Paris Agreement goals and countries’ planned production of coal, oil and gas. Burning those fossil fuels produces emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that cause global warming. 

Instead of reducing production, countries are planning and projecting an average annual increase of 2%, which by 2030 would result in more than double the production needed to reach the 1.5-degree Celsius limit set by the Paris Agreement.

 “The research is abundantly clear that we face severe climate disruption if countries continue to produce fossil fuels at current levels, let alone at their planned increases,” said Michael Lazarus, a lead author on the report and the director of the Stockholm Environment Institute’s U.S. Center. “The research is similarly clear on the solution: government policies that decrease both the demand and supply for fossil fuels and support communities currently dependent on them." 

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Experts agree that the longer countries burn fossil fuels, the more warming will be “locked in” as emissions stay in the atmosphere for years or even decades.

In the U.S., while the nation undergoes a major shift from coal – production estimates are dropping by 103 million tons a year compared with 2019 estimates – that is offset by large increases in projected oil and gas production. 

As for the coronavirus pandemic, the report said COVID-19 recovery money has been disproportionately allocated to fossil fuel development rather than into burgeoning the clean energy industry. As of mid-November, the G20 governments had committed more than $233 billion to fossil fuel production and related activities compared with about $150 billion for clean fuels.

Like many sectors, oil and gas have been affected considerably by the coronavirus pandemic, with initial estimates dropping fossil fuel production by up to 7% on the year, according to the report. But the production drop is probably temporary unless countries and industry players change their ways. 

“This report is a vivid reminder that we are far off track for averting the worst impacts of climate change," said Steven Nadel, executive director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. "We can and must use less fossil fuels, not more.”