On Oct. 31, the annual Gap Report was issued by the United Nations. It assesses progress toward the goals of the Paris Accord — a 2015 agreement to keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees celsius (3.6o degrees Fahrenheit).

The report reveals that there is a “climate gap” between existing commitments to cut greenhouse gases, and the reductions necessary to avoid the worst consequences of global warming.

Currently, pledges by nations to reduce their emissions add up to no more than one-third of what is needed to avoid global warming.

So what?

Actually, it’s a big, big deal.

In a world that has warmed 2 degrees:

  • Temperature will exceed 40o degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) every year in many parts of Asia, Australia, Northern Africa, South and North America.
  • Large areas of cropland will experience debilitating drought that drives up food prices, famine, and political unrest.
  • Sea level rise, probably exceeding 1 meter (3.3 feet), will disrupt coastal communities including many of the world’s major cities.
  • Superstorms will develop as heat accumulates in the tropics.
  • Infectious disease, malnutrition, and hunger will intensify and expand to new communities.
  • Climate refugees, displaced by unlivable conditions, will catalyze political turmoil as they seek new homes.

Left: Global average temperature has increased by more than 1.2°F (0.7°C) for the period 1986-2016 relative to 1901-1960. Red bars show temperatures that were above the 1901-1960 average, and blue bars indicate temperatures below the average. Right: Surface temperature change (in °F) for the period 1986-2016 relative to 1901-1960. Gray indicates missing data.

US Global Change Research Program

We live at a critical time. Poised on a tipping point, how we behave in the next decade will determine future human prosperity.

The Paris goal translates into a finite planetary carbon budget. To limit warming to 2 degrees by 2100, global carbon dioxide emissions must peak no later than 2020.

Gross emissions must decline thereafter from about 40 billion tons (metric) of carbon dioxide per year in 2020, to 24 by 2030, 14 by 2040, and 5 by 2050.

Humanity must be divorced of carbon-based energy in only 30 years.

Literally everything that we depend upon is contingent on climate; from the air we breathe, freshwater and food, to transportation, shelter, and security.

Climate change is happening. The acceleration of change places human life on the edge of sustainability in many locations.

What steps can we take to close the “climate gap”?

We live at a critical time. Poised on a tipping point, how we behave in the next decade will determine future human prosperity.

By adopting already known best-practices across the following sectors, the gap can be closed before 2030.

  • Energy — nearly one-third of needed carbon cuts can be gained by accelerated progress toward renewable energy and worldwide coal abatement.
  • Industry and Transportation – increase efficiencies in energy, cooling and heating, aviation, shipping, car mileage and use of biofuels.
  • Buildings – accelerate use of renewable energy and efficient appliances.
  • Agriculture — decrease food waste, shift to a more plant-based diet, and restore degraded lands.
  • Forestry — reducing deforestation and restoring deforested lands can close as much as one-sixth of the gap.

We all can play an important role in each of these sectors because cutting carbon is scalable. That is, if we each cut our personal carbon footprint by 50 percent per decade, the gains will scale up from individuals and families, to businesses and cities, nations and the world.

These positive actions will result in a cleaner and more sustainable planet, a resilient human community, and a climate that stops warming before 2 degrees C.

The world of the future can be a beautiful and healthy place where humans thrive. But it won’t happen without your participation.

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