'Raise ambition level' in climate change fight: UN weather chief

World Meteorological Organization chief Petteri Taalas has warned that the world is on track this century to see three to four times greater temperature rises than the stated objective in the 2015 Paris agreement (AFP Photo/FABRICE COFFRINI)
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Geneva (AFP) - Countries need to dramatically hike their ambitions in the fight against climate change, the World Meteorological Organization said Thursday, warning that the planet will soon be locked in a cycle of relentless warming.

"The ambition level has been too low," WMO chief Petteri Taalas told reporters in Geneva, warning that the world is on track this century to see three to four times greater temperature rises than the stated objective in the 2015 Paris agreement.

World leaders who signed the agreement committed to a series of measures to limit global temperature rises to less than 2.0 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) overall and to below 1.5 degrees by the end of the century.

But recent studies show the world is off track and likely to miss that target.

"We know that if we want to reach 1.5 degrees, ambition levels should be extremely high, and one might say it is not very realistic to achieve 1.5 degrees," Taalas said.

- Runaway climate change? -

"Globally we haven't been able to follow such a path that would lead to 1.5 and two degrees," he said, warning that "we are rather going towards three to five degrees... by the end of this century."

Taalas pointed out that currently, 85 percent of global energy is produced using fossil fuels, with only 15 percent coming from a combination of nuclear, hydropower and renewable energies.

"To be successful in climate mitigation we should reverse those numbers," he said.

He also insisted that more needs to be done to "electrify our transport systems", and called for people to move more towards vegetarian diets to help reduce the high levels of greenhouse gas emissions during meat production.

With 2018 shaping up to be the fourth hottest year on record, UN chief Antonio Guterres warned earlier this week that the world needed to act within two years to avert the disastrous consequences of runaway climate change.

Taalas did not mention a similar cut-off point, but he stressed that if more is not done to rein in emissions, global temperatures will soar far past the two-degree target.

"We will reach eight degrees warmer climate that would last up to tens of thousands of years," he warned, pointing out that carbon dioxide, once emitted, can remain in the atmosphere for millenia.

Even if countries step up now and do everything needed to ensure the Paris target is met, Taalas pointed out that the planet will continue warming and glaciers in Greenland, Antarctica and elsewhere will continue melting for at least the next 50 years.

"If we are able to control emissions, we would see the stabilisation of the situation in the 2060s," he said.

"The melting doesn't stop immediately. It is a slow process," he said, adding that even if the Paris targets are met, global sea levels are expected to rise one metre by the end of the next century.

If we don't meet the Paris targets, however, we should expect global sea levels to rise by one metre each century, and this "will continue for thousands of years," Taalas said.

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