The 2010s amounted to "a decade lost" for slowing climate change, as nations around the world failed to substantially rein-in the heat-trapping emissions generated by power plants, factories, cars and trucks, and other sources that burn fossil fuels, a United Nations report said Tuesday.
The Earth's average temperature is now on track to soar by close to 4 degrees Celsius – or 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit – by the end of the century compared to pre-industrial levels. Scientists have broadly concluded that the planet needs to keep warming to within 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change.
Rapid rates of warming, meanwhile, are already essentially locked-in: Even ambitious new efforts to slash carbon emissions, as represented in nations' commitments under the 2015 Paris climate accord, will still produce 2.9 to 3.4 degrees of warming.
The report, from the UN's World Meteorological Organization, renewed calls for yet more urgent action to drastically reduce emissions around the world.
"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," WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a statement. "We need to translate the commitments into action and increase the level of ambition for the sake of the future welfare of mankind."
Despite rapid growth in renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, sharp declines in coal-fired power generation in developed nations, and recent high-profile investments in electric vehicles and EV charging infrastructure, global emissions are next expected to peak by the end of the next decade.
"The effects of climate policies have been too small to offset the impact of key drivers of emissions such as economic growth and population growth," the report said, characterizing the finding as a "rather bleak fact."
Already, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is comparable to 3-5 million years ago, when temperatures were roughly 2-3 degrees warmer and sea levels were 30-60 feet higher, the WMO said.
"In this critical period, the world must deliver concrete, stepped-up action on emissions," Inger Andersen, executive director of the UN Environment Programme said in a statement. "We face a stark choice: set in motion the radical transformations we need now, or face the consequences of a planet radically altered by climate change."