This has been a pretty unfortunate few weeks for overall climate news, serving up almost a trifecta of bad reports. Consider: A major new United Nations report issued today (Tuesday, November 26) found that greenhouse gas emissions from the world’s biggest polluters have increased, despite the landmark agreement in Paris four years ago to hold the increase in global temperatures well below 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degree Fahrenheit. “The summary finding is bleak,” the report said, and “…deeper and faster cuts are now required.”
On a longer time scale, the World Meteorological Organization reported yesterday that levels of heat-trapping gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide have reached another new, record high. “There is no sign of a slowdown, let alone a decline, in greenhouse gases concentration in the atmosphere despite all the commitments under the Paris Agreement on Climate Change,” the organization’s leader, Petteri Taalas, said.
Meanwhile, evidence has been accumulating that the world is getting closer and closer to what has been called a “hothouse Earth scenario,” in which large chunks of the planet become at least partially uninhabitable, leading 11,000 scientists to publish an open letter on November 5 in the journal BioScience calling for immediate action. The letter said: “The climate crisis has arrived and is accelerating faster than most scientists expected. It is more severe than anticipated, threatening natural ecosystems and the fate of humanity.”
But despite all the bad news, it is not too late to take action, as the New York Times noted in its coverage of the UN report: “There are many ways to reduce emissions: quitting the combustion of fossil fuels, especially coal, the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel; switching to renewable energy like solar and wind power; moving away from gas- and diesel-guzzling cars; and halting deforestation.” The article also cited the rapid decline of coal use in the United States and Western Europe as a reason for hope, along with the faster-than-projected spread of renewables, the proliferation of electric vehicles, and the emergence of a whole slew of young people committed to fighting climate change. Even the United States—despite its hard-core climate denialism—has seen the issue of climate change become prominent on the presidential campaign trail.
“There’s a bit of a ‘best of times, worst of times’ about this,” David Waskow, director of the international climate initiative at the World Resources Institute, commented to the Times.