Global warming approaching 3 degrees this century with catastrophic implications, UN report warns

Countries’ ‘emissions gap’ is like an emissions canyon littered with broken promises, broken lives and broken records, says UN chief

The world is on track for a 3 degree temperature rise this century as global warming and greenhouse gas emissions continue to break records, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has warned.

It is widely accepted that extent of human-induced warming above pre-industrial levels would have catastrophic implications for billions of people and ecosystems on the planet.

UNEP’s latest “emissions gap” report issued on Monday concludes current pledges by countries under the Paris Agreement are insufficient as the world is setting “alarming emissions and temperature records which intensify extreme weather events and other climate impacts across the globe”.

Released ahead of Cop28 climate summit in Dubai, it finds “global low-carbon transformations” are needed to deliver cuts to predicted 2030 emissions of 28 per cent to get on a “least cost pathway” for the 2 degree goal, and 42 per cent for a 1.5 degree pathway – the key Paris pact goals. Maintaining the possibility of those temperature targets – and avoiding climate breakdown – “hinges on significantly strengthening mitigation [emission reductions] this decade to narrow the emissions gap”.


“There is no person or economy left on the planet untouched by climate change, so we need to stop setting unwanted records on greenhouse gas emissions, global temperature highs and extreme weather,” said Inger Andersen, UNEP executive director.

“We must instead lift the needle out of the same old groove of insufficient ambition and not enough action, and start setting other records: on cutting emissions, on green and just transitions and on climate finance,” she added.

The report shows if nothing changes, 2030 emissions will be 22 gigatonnes higher than the 1.5 degree-limit will allow. That is the total present annual emissions of the US, China and EU combined, UN secretary general António Guterres said.

He added: “Present trends are racing our planet down a dead-end three-degree temperature rise ... the emissions gap is more like an emissions canyon. A canyon littered with broken promises, broken lives and broken records.”

“All of this is a failure of leadership, a betrayal of the vulnerable, and a large missed opportunity when renewables have never been cheaper or more accessible,” Mr Guterres said.

Minster for Climate Eamon Ryan said: “The report is stark and alarming. It is not, unfortunately, a shock, We have seen wave after wave of wake-up reports from eminent scientists and meteorologists ... We’ve seen scorching heatwaves and devastating floods, including here in Ireland. Yet, it seems that most of us, particularly in the most developed countries, continue to go about our lives as if we are collectively hard-wired to ignore the pressing reality of climate change.”

“We have to speed up and scale up our switch to an economywide, low-carbon future based on green energy, green jobs and green agriculture,” he added.

This was needed to ensure Ireland’s prosperity and to support those least responsible for the impact of rising global temperatures and climate disruption. Mr Ryan cited Oxfam analysis showing the richest 1 per cent in the world emit as much planet heating emissions as the five billion people who make up two-thirds of the world’s poorest people. “This is wrong. This cannot go on. This has to change.”

Countries with greater capacity and responsibility for emissions, like Ireland, had to take more ambitious action and at the same time support developing nations to make their green transition, he said.

Mr Ryan said he would be going to Cop28 to advocate for the polluter pays principle, “to ensure that there is adequate funding to support the most vulnerable countries and states in the world and to encourage greater access to renewable energy, particularly in the developing world, and Africa specifically.”

The report finds emissions have reached a record 57.4 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. “Emissions trends reflect global patterns of inequality. Because of these worrying trends and insufficient mitigation efforts, the world is on track for a temperature rise far beyond the agreed climate goals during this century,” the UNEP says.

Implementing future policies already promised by countries would shave 0.1 degrees off the 3-degree limit, it says. Putting in place emissions cuts pledged by developing countries on condition of receiving financial and technical support would cut the temperature rise to 2.5 degrees; still a catastrophic scenario.

It acknowledges progress since the Paris Agreement was signed, “but significantly ramping up implementation in this decade is the only way to keep the window open for limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees without significant overshoot”.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times