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Greenhouse Gas Emissions Show No Signs Of Peaking, U.N. Report Says


The title of a new U.N. report on climate change out today says it all - On the Brink. The findings paint a grim picture, pointing to the last decade as a lost opportunity. According to the report, the commitments that countries made four years ago as part of the Paris climate accord are nowhere near enough to combat record high temperatures.

Elliot Diringer is an executive vice president at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. It's a nonprofit focused on climate change. He is in our studios this morning. Thank you so much for coming in.

ELLIOT DIRINGER: Good morning.

R MARTIN: So lots of data in this report. You've been poring over it. What stands out to you?

DIRINGER: Well, Rachel, this is really the latest in a series of wake-up calls. Previous reports have painted a very stark picture of the kind of future we face if we don't meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. This report provides us with a numerical accounting of just how far short we're falling. It projects where emissions will be with countries' current commitments by 2030 and where they need to be if we're going to keep warming under three degrees. That's the so-called gap. It shows that right now we're on track to three degrees of warming, and that poses some really severe consequences. But this is very timely because governments are just on the threshold of a series of decisions over the coming year to increase their targets under the Paris Agreement. And I think that really the bottom-line message here is that we no longer have any time at all to waste, and 2020 is the year to step up action.

R MARTIN: But you say that world leaders are recognizing that the standard set in the Paris accord were too low, but they didn't even meet those. So what difference does it make that they're saying, we're going to increase our commitment?

DIRINGER: Well, you know, there is increasing momentum around the world. We have a global youth movement, something that's unprecedented. We have growing recognition by companies that, in fact, they face - their self-interest is in favor of climate action. In some respects, the private sector is leading the public sector in addressing this issue. So we need to increase the public - the political pressure on leaders over the coming year as they step forward to increase their ambition. There are hopeful signs. The headline numbers on this report can be gloomy and scary. I hope people get to the second half of the report, which points out some of the solutions that are available - solutions that are at hand.

R MARTIN: Like what?

DIRINGER: Well, we're seeing it already. We are switching to renewable energy very quickly. It's the cheapest cost of power generation right now. Automakers are rolling out more electric vehicles. There are a whole host of solutions that have - that - whose costs have been driven down by the policies that have been put in place over the last decade or so. There are investments being made, investors asking companies to explain how they intend to reduce their climate risks, the opportunities they see in a carbon constrained future. So there are a host of technological solutions. We need to be open to all of those and we need to increase the investment and the policy pressure to really deploy those.

R MARTIN: But so often it is difficult for people to care, frankly. They let the bad news kind of wash over them because they cannot articulate, they cannot visualize what the effects of climate change are actually going to bring. I understand the need to focus on the positive - the things that are going well. But can you please help us visualize what the world looks like in 80 years?

DIRINGER: Well, I think that's really up to us, frankly. And I think that, you know, we are hearing more and more the gloomy predictions of what the world will look like if we don't take action. You know, we can look out the window right now and see the here and now impacts of climate change - the fires in California, the increased flooding, the fact that so many farmers in the Midwest had to push back their planting seasons by months because of the swollen Mississippi River. So we're getting glimpses now of the sort of future that we face if we don't take action. But I also think that, you know, while it's vital for us to understand the stakes and the urgency, it's really just as vital that people have a picture of the kinds of solutions that are available. I mentioned the growing global youth movement here in the United States. You also see growing global support across the political spectrum for doing the right things. States and cities representing two-thirds of the country remain committed to the Paris Agreement. Even in Congress, you're beginning to see Republicans recognizing the importance of addressing this issue. So I think there's hope.

R MARTIN: Elliot Diringer, executive vice president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, thank you for your time.

DIRINGER: You're very welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.