CO2 emissions still rising amid development goal warnings

According to the World Meteorological Organization, preliminary estimates show the world’s fossil fuel emissions have again risen amid warnings climate change is keeping the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals out of reach.

The 17 sustainable development goals encompass 169 individual targets, which aim to end poverty and hunger, improve health and sanitation, reduce inequalities, limit climate change, secure clean energy and maintain sustainable human and non-human ecosystems.

But a new scientific report from the WMO, including contributions from Australian climate scientist Pep Canadell, finds the SDGs are unlikely to be reached, with only 15% currently on track.

Describing science as “central to solutions”, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres said he hoped science would address the societal challenges laid out in the SDGs, while his WMO counterpart Professor Petteri Taalas said science and technology could “catalyse transformation to achieve the SDGs…[and] Early Warnings for All by 2027”.

As well as finding record levels of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere from human activity, the report finds:

  • Carbon dioxide emissions increased by 1% in 2022 relative to 2021, driven primarily by increases in the aviation sector amid relaxing COVID-19 restrictions.
  • Greenhouse gas emissions from coal increased by around 1%; while methane emissions from gas-burning declined.
  • Existing carbon budgets to keep warming below 1.5 degrees are expected to be exhausted at the end of this decade.

The 17 SDGs were adopted in 2015 by the UN General Assembly as part of its sustainable development agenda but nations have lagged in their implementation. Some developing nations rely on global funding to meet the targets.

Next week, a summit in New York will review the halfway point of the SDG timeline, while next year will see more talks to overhaul governance.

How climate affects SDGs, using food as an example

Climate patterns are shifting as increased concentrations of atmospheric and ocean carbon cause temperatures to rise.

As a result, extreme events are expected to ramp up, with IPCC reports predicting a range of social and environmental consequences – which SDGs aim to prevent.

Take the second SDG aimed at achieving ‘Zero Hunger’. Data from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization shows the gap between haves and have-nots widens annually.

Most highly developed nations, particularly those in Europe, North America, North and Central Asia, Australia and New Zealand have relatively high food security (measured by undernourishment beneath 2.5% of the population). Much of Africa, South and Central America, the Middle East and South Asia have shown little improvement or moved backward in food security since 2015.

Increases in extreme events – not just short-term destruction caused by fires, floods, heatwaves or cyclones but prolonged events like drought – undermine availability and access to food. The WMO particularly points to heat and water stress as primary factors in cutting food production globally.

While this is one of 17 SDGs, the report consistently connects opportunities for weather, climate and water sciences to inform responses to extreme events expected to emerge in the coming years.

Please login to favourite this article.