THE WORLD is heading in the wrong direction, and it does not have much time left to change course. After several years in which global greenhouse-gas emissions leveled off, they spiked to record levels this year, according to projections a group of scientists released Wednesday. Along with some major developing nations, emissions in the United States are projected to grow substantially. So much for all those assurances that the market would take care of the problem.
The news comes just after the United Nations released a report finding that climate change will disrupt human society, kill many people and permanently reshape the Earth unless stemmed aggressively, and soon.
The inescapable truth: The transition from fossil fuels is essential, it is going to be hard, and the United States must step up.
Overall, global emissions are projected to rise by 2.7 percent this year, up more than a point from last year’s growth rate. China’s emissions are up 5 percent, and India’s 6 percent. China remains the world’s largest emitter. Even so, its emissions intensity — that is, how much carbon dioxide it spews into the air relative to the size of its economy — has declined substantially in recent years, and the country is still on track to meet the landmark target it set in the Paris climate agreement. India, meanwhile, has lots of poor people struggling to emerge from miserable poverty, who will naturally use more energy as they improve their standard of living. Yet that country is poised to exceed its Paris commitment.
The United States is not, and the country does not have the excuse that its economy is still developing. U.S. emissions are up by 2.5 percent from last year, and it is one of seven major nations lagging on their Paris goals. Canada is also behind, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau just announced an ambitious carbon-tax plan. The European Union, too, needs to do more to meet its Paris commitment, but its emissions were down this year, and the bloc has worked hard to cut its carbon footprint.
The Trump administration, on the other hand, is trying to push the United States backward. The day after the latest emissions numbers emerged, the Environmental Protection Agency announced another rollback of a regulation on coal-fired power plants, the greatest villains in the climate change story.
The reason for the United States’ surge in emissions appears to have been higher energy use to heat and cool homes this year. As the world warms, people will want to use more air conditioning — producing more emissions unless the country gets its energy from low- or zero-carbon sources. This is just one of the many, many factors that make it more sensible to combat climate change before it worsens rather than waiting until it becomes an emergency. World leaders have missed their chance to avoid the warming already here and built into the system. The Trump administration would have humanity miss its window entirely.