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We Are Responsible for Fighting This Global Emergency


Joyce Msuya

Acting Executive Director, United Nations Environment Programme

When the world’s leaders met three years ago in Paris, they agreed to keep a rise in temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. There was a real sense that the world was finally on track to avert calamity. But our latest research shows that the gap between where greenhouse gas emissions are today and where they need to be is not only enormous but growing. The majority of the top 20 economies, responsible for about three quarters of global emissions, will fail to fulfill their commitments on time. And even if they do, the world will still heat up by 3°C.

A few degrees may not sound like a big deal, but it’s worth considering what this means. The difference between a 1.5°C and 2°C rise is the difference between coral in the ocean and no coral in the ocean. A half-degree rise means plunging several hundred million of people into poverty by 2050 and doubling the number of people who lack access to decent water. It means more floods, heatwaves, wildfires and drought. Raise the temperature by 3°C and things start to spiral out of control.

We need action​​​​​​​

If we are to stand a chance of sticking to 1.5°C of warming, we need to make emission cuts six times deeper than the pledges made in Paris. That means cutting emissions in half by 2030.  The action required is unprecedented but, as our report makes clear, it is still technically possible.

We all have a role to play. From the highest level of government to our kitchen table, it is the decisions we make every day that ultimately determine the future of this earth. 

A global mission

We need to rapidly replace fossil fuels with renewable energy from the wind and sun and make smart transportation choices. Cities and buildings will need to be redesigned so they waste less energy. And we need to be aware of the climate footprint of our air conditioning units and refrigerators. We must stop deforestation, plant new forests and restore degraded ones. And we must think about how our eating habits impact our earth.

The know-how exists. It is courageous decision-making, on every level, that is lacking.

Make no mistake, we are in the grip of a global emergency the scale of which humanity has never confronted before. But we all know how to tackle this crisis — cutting greenhouse emissions is our combined responsibility.

As we reflect on the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, this is our last chance to ensure that the world’s climate ambitions match the scale of the global calamity that confronts us.

We have to lead by example because everyone is accountable. The deep changes that are urgently required are still possible. History may forgive a shaky start. It will look back with despair and disdain if we continue on our current path.

Joyce Msuya, Acting Executive Director, United Nations Environment Programme, [email protected]

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