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UN Warns Only Rapid and Transformational Action Can Stave Off Climate Disaster

An alarming UN report says global temperatures are on track to rise as much as 3.9°C by the end of the century.

Protesters rally in response to the call for a global climate strike in Nürnberg, Germany, September 20, 2019.

An alarming United Nations report released Tuesday said global temperatures are on track to rise as much as 3.9°C by the end of the century, meaning only drastic and unprecedented emissions reductions can stave off the most devastating consequences of the climate crisis.

The annual Emissions Gap report (pdf) from the U.N. Environmental Program (UNEP) warns that nations’ commitments under the Paris climate accord — from which U.S. President Donald Trump began formally withdrawing this month — are not nearly sufficient to bring about the widespread changes needed to avert climate catastrophe.

“It is evident that incremental changes will not be enough and there is a need for rapid and transformational action,” the report states. “By necessity, this will see profound change in how energy, food, and other material-intensive services are demanded and provided by governments, businesses, and markets.”

According to the report, produced by an international team of leading scientists and researchers, greenhouse gas emissions must begin falling 7.6 percent annually by 2020 to prevent global temperatures from rising more than 1.5°C by 2030.

“Our collective failure to act early and hard on climate change means we now must deliver deep cuts to emissions,” Inger Andersen, UNEP’s executive director, said in a statement. “This shows that countries simply cannot wait until the end of 2020, when new climate commitments are due, to step up action. They — and every city, region, business, and individual — need to act now.”

Anderson added that only “major transformations of economies and societies” will be enough.

“We need to catch up on the years in which we procrastinated,” Anderson said. “If we don’t do this, the 1.5°C goal will be out of reach before 2030.”

The Emissions Gap report comes just a day after the U.N.’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reported that levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached a record high in 2018.

“There has never been a more important time to listen to the science,” U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said in a statement Tuesday. “Failure to heed these warnings and take drastic action to reverse emissions means we will continue to witness deadly and catastrophic heatwaves, storms, and pollution.”

May Boeve, chief executive of, said the new reports show “the science is screaming.”

“To world leaders we say: it is time to stop the expansion of the fossil fuel industry immediately,” Boeve said in a statement Tuesday. “Not a single new mine can be dug, not another pipeline built, not one more well dropped into the ocean. And we have to get to work immediately transitioning to sustainable renewable energy powered energy systems.”

“Across the globe, resistance to fossil fuels is rising, the climate strikes have shown the world that we are prepared to take action,” Boeve added. “Going forward people will keep up a steady drumbeat of actions, strikes, and protests that get louder and louder throughout 2020. To governments attending Cop25 in Madrid, the eyes of all future generations are upon you. The world has woken up to the reality of climate breakdown.”

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