The World’s Climate Goals Aren’t Ambitious Enough

(The Bloomberg View) -- In signing the Paris climate agreement, the world’s governments pledged to keep the global average temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius. Leaving aside that their collective efforts and plans to curb greenhouse gases are not enough to accomplish that — the goal itself turns out to be too modest to prevent disastrous warming.

Today’s report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change clarifies how much better off the world would be if warming stopped at 1.5 degrees rather than 2 degrees. Hundreds of millions of people would be spared extended periods of extreme heat, water scarcity, drought and flooding. Crop yields would not fall as drastically. Coral reefs would have a chance of survival. Countless species would be spared extinction.

The world is on a path to reach 1.5 degrees of warming in just 22 years. Slowing that progress and holding the line at 1.5 degrees is possible only if humanity can bring itself to very quickly phase out the use of coal, oil and gas, and in the bargain start removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. That would be a technological challenge, to say the least, and an even more daunting political one.

States, cities, businesses, investors and philanthropies are taking action of their own to limit emissions as far as they can, in the absence of national leadership. But if there is to be hope of keeping the average temperature at 1.5 degrees, countries need to act, too.

One huge obstacle at the moment in the America’s current refusal to lead. The Trump administration, having withdrawn from the Paris accord, is now pushing to relax limits on emissions from U.S. power plants, cars and natural-gas drilling.

The best way for the U.S. and every other country to grapple with this challenge is to tax carbon emissions at a rate sufficient to discourage use of fossil fuels and raise demand for renewables. The longer this approach is delayed, the harder it will be to limit the damage — and the greater the cost of eventual action to avoid a climate catastrophe. If this shift in policy is to happen in the U.S., voters will need to push their politicians hard.

Change is needed elsewhere too. When governments review the Paris pact in December, they’ll need to make bolder promises — and, no less important, show they mean to keep them. Governments worldwide need to be clear: The world’s dependence on fossil fuels has to end, and soon.

Editorials are written by the Bloomberg View editorial board.

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