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EDITORIAL: Do the chores to stop climate change

York Dispatch Editorial Board
File - In this Friday, Sept. 6, 2019 file photo, commuters make their way along an expressway during rush hour in Beijing. According to Chinese state media, the average concentration of PM2.5 fine air pollutants in Beijing in August was at the lowest level ever recorded for that month. Inger Andersen, head of the U.N. Environment Program, says the world needs 'quick wins to reduce emissions as much as possible in 2020.' Ahead of a global climate summit in Madrid next week, her agency published a report Tuesday showing the amount of planet-heating gases released into the atmosphere hitting a new high last year. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, file)

The nations of the world are pretending that fighting climate change is like a household chore that no one really wants to do, like cleaning the garage. 

We keep putting it off, saying we'll cut carbon emissions next year or next decade. Maybe we'll make a start, clearing some space around the edges with nods to renewable energy and electric cars or make some promises about getting to it in the spring while letting the car warm up outside on a crisp December morning.

But in the end, we're still looking at adding more gases to an atmosphere that's packed with carbon, a world that's warming and no real plan to do the work to change anything.

A report by the U.N. Environment Program, published on Tuesday, Nov. 26, showed the amount of planet-heating gases being pumped into the atmosphere hitting a new high last year, despite a near-global pledge to reduce them, according to The Associated Press.

Man-made greenhouse gas emissions rose in 2018 to 55.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide, according to the U.N.’s annual "emissions gap" report. While much of the increase came from emerging economies such as China and India, some of those emissions are the result of manufacturing outsourced from developed countries.

“We need quick wins to reduce emissions as much as possible in 2020,” said the agency’s chief, Inger Andersen. “We need to catch up on the years in which we procrastinated.”

To stop average global temperatures from increasing by more than 1.5 degrees Celsuis — 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit — this century compared with pre-industrial times, worldwide emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases would have to drop by 7.6% each year in the coming decade, the agency said.

Scientists say the 1.5C target — contained in the 2015 Paris climate accord — would avert some of the more extreme changes in global weather patterns predicted if temperatures rise further.

“What we are looking at is really that emissions need to go down by 55% by 2030,” said John Christensen, lead author and director of the UNEP-Danish Technology Institute Partnership.

Even the less ambitious goal of capping global warming at 2C (3.6 F) would require annual emissions cuts of 2.7% between 2020 and 2030, UNEP said.

But there's little chance of that happening. 

Even if nations come through with the emissions cuts they have pledged, the world will be 3.2C or 5.8 degrees Fahrenheit warmer in 2100 than it was in preindustrial times, according to the U.N. agency. To limit the world to 1.5C warmer, countries would have to make five times the cuts they have promised to make now.

Just last week, the UNEP published a separate report saying that countries are planning to extract more than twice the amount of fossil fuels from the ground in 2030 than can be burned if the world wants to meet the 1.5C target.

And the U.S.? Our energy-related carbon dioxide emissions rose 2.7% last year, after a gradual decline, according to The Washington Post. That increase came as the Trump administration continued to roll back Obama-era climate regulations and made clear that the United States, once a leader in pushing for climate action, will withdraw from the Paris accord in 2020.

The consequences are already here, seen daily in coastal flooding, heat waves and more. Storms are growing stronger — who had ever heard of a bomb cyclone until the past few years? Coral reefs that are dying now could begin to dissolve as oceans become more acidic. Wildfires in Australia have taken koala populations down to endangered levels.

It's time to stop procrastinating. All nations, including the U.S., must agree to make the changes that are necessary to slow the emissions and reverse the damage. It's past time to clean out that garage.