In what is starting to sound like a broken record, countries around the world are once again having difficulty meeting their greenhouse gas emissions targets.

A joint report by three climate research groups—non-governmental organization Climate Analytics, consultancy Ecofys, and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research—has revealed that a number of countries will fail to cut their emissions to target levels. By signing the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, thirty-seven industrialized countries committed to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 5% below their 1990 levels. This threshold was chosen in order to limit the increase in global average temperature to less than 2 degrees Celsius, which scientists say is the maximum warming we can experience without devastating consequences for the planet.

“It’s clear that many governments are nowhere near putting in place the policies they have committed to, policies that are not enough to keep temperature rise to below 2 degrees,” said Bill Hare, Director of Climate Analytics. Mexico will likely achieve a 12 percent emissions reduction by 2020, but this does not meet the 30 percent it pledged. The United States expects to lower GHG emissions somewhat by 2020—mostly due to the economic downturn and a shift from reliance on coal to increased natural gas usage—but a gap of 384 million metric tons remains to reach its target reductions. Moreover, China’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions increased by 3.2 percent last year, canceling out any reductions by the United States and Europe. Japan also increased emissions in 2011, by 2.4 percent, as a result of reduced reliance on nuclear power after the Fukushima accident.

As a result, we are experiencing an emissions gap; the actions taken today are unable to even prevent the annual increase of emissions, much less reduce them to historic levels. A report by the International Energy Agency found that global CO2 is at the highest ever recorded level. “Climate change is sliding down in the international policy agenda, which is definitely a worrying trend,” Fatih Birol, IEA’s chief said. The United States remains the world’s second-biggest CO2 emitter after China.

Scientists are now predicting that by 2020 greenhouse gas emissions could rise to 9.92 billion tons above the necessary level to limit global warming. This would cause a temperature rise of at least 3.5 degrees and lead to a number of big problems including crop failures, extensive heatwaves, water shortages, and health risks unlike anything we have experienced before. Developing countries will be hardest hit, according to Hare, but industrialized countries will also be affected.

It is clear that unless ambitious action is taken immediately, the future holds a significantly warmer world.

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