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Here's How Little Time We Have Until Global Warming Is Out Of Control

Chelsea Harvey

The news is in: humans are totally failing in the global effort to stop climate change. And we don't have much time left.

This is the conclusion of a report released this month by multinational accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. The "Low Carbon Economy Index" evaluates the progress of G-20 countries in keeping global temperatures within 2 degrees Celsius of their pre-industrial levels — the target agreed upon at the 2009 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change — and finds that almost everyone is falling short.

The "2 C" goal isn’t just a random number: experts agree that anything higher could lead to a disastrous series of effects, including catastrophic sea level rise, extreme weather events, famine and mass extinction.

As it stands, G-20 countries are largely liable for keeping this from happening, as they contribute about 85 percent of global carbon emissions. This chart shows the breakdown by country, with China coming in at a whopping 27.6 percent, and the U.S. trailing close behind at 16.7 percent.

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Last year, the global economy needed to slash world carbon emissions by 6 percent in order to stay on target, but we only managed a dismal global average of 1.2 percent. That means starting this year, we’ll need to cut 6.2 percent of our emissions every year for the rest of the century if we want to meet our 2 C goal.

This chart illustrates current rates of "decarbonization" — essentially reducing our use of carbon — compared with the rates needed to keep climate change in check. It's pretty clear that if we keep going the way we are headed, we will hit the "worse case" scenario. 

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At the rate we're going, we'll shatter our goal by a hefty 2 C by the end of the century (reaching a total of 4 degrees Celsius increase) with potentially disastrous effects.

In fact, the report shows we might exceed a 2 C increase as early as 2034.

Those terrible things all being true, there’s some reason for optimism: We do have the ability to lower our emissions. Positive steps are being taken by some countries.

Australia, for example, decreased its carbon emissions by a stunning 7.2 percent between 2012 and 2013, and the U.K, Italy, and China all managed impressive decarbonization rates between 4 and 5 percent. On the other hand, five countries actually increased their carbon intensity during the same time period, the U.S. among them.

The pressure is on to start slashing carbon emissions and get back on track before it’s too late. The end goal will require dedication, international cooperation and a lot of hard work.



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