Despite recent climate pledges, the world is still falling short of the emissions cuts needed to avoid the worst effects of the climate crisis, according to a United Nations report. The UN urged countries, especially the largest polluters, to act more ambitiously this year ahead of the COP26 climate conference in November.
In 2015, countries agreed to keep global average temperatures under 2°C above pre-industrial levels, while also aiming at 1.5º if possible. This is the Paris Agreement, through which virtually all countries across the world have to present climate pledges and update them every five years – always making the new one more ambitious than the previous one.
Over the last year, some countries have presented more ambitious pledges. But the first official assessment by the UN indicates that they still don’t go as far as they should to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. The world’s pledges are only enough to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by less than 1% below 2010 levels by 2030.
Still, the report gives an incomplete snapshot. Most countries, especially the largest polluters such as China, the United States, and India, missed the December 31st deadline to submit new official emission-reduction targets. Only 75 countries met the deadline for updating their plans, accounting for about 30% of global emissions.
UN climate change head Patricia Espinosa said in a statement that the collective ambition of the climate plans was “very far” from putting the world on track to meet the Paris Agreement. “The message is extremely clear. We are collectively wandering into a minefield, blindfolded. The next step would mean disaster,” Espinosa said in a statement.
Espinosa asked the major emitters to “step up” and commit to “much more radical” emissions reductions this year. China, the US and India haven’t revealed their plans yet. “I call on all parties, even on those who have submitted already their new updated [climate plans], to look at how they can increase their ambition,” Espinosa added.
The UN report found that the new climate pledges would reduce 2.8% of emissions by 2030 compared with the previous commitments. This is still far from what’s needed to avoid the worst effects of the climate crisis. Scientists at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said emissions should fall 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 in order to stand a chance at meeting the Paris Agreement goals.
“This report confirms the shocking lack of urgency, and genuine action,” Aubrey Webson, chair of the Alliance of Small Island States, told Climate Change News. “We are flirting dangerously with the 1.5ºC warming limit that the world agreed we need to stay within. It is small island developing states like ours that will pay the ultimate price if we do not.”
UN chief António Guterres said the report was a “red alert” for the planet. He highlighted the long-term climate plans presented by countries to decarbonize their economies by 2100 but said this has to be followed with short-term actions. COP26 president Alok Sharma called for more ambition from major emitters this year.
Countries were expected to submit improved climate pledges before the end of 2020, but less than half did so – with governments claiming delays because of the pandemic. In total, 113 countries still have to present their pledge. The report highlighted an improvement on the quality of the climate goals, covering all sector of the economy.
Among the countries covered by the report, Argentina, the EU, and the UK were highlighted because they improved their targets. On the other hand, Brazil and Mexico backslid on their commitments, with emissions set to rise compared to their previous pledges. No deeper cuts were done by Australia, Russia, and South Korea.
Bill Hare, director of Climate Analytics, a private group that tracks countries’ emissions targets, told AP that the world “is heading to 3ºC and a global catastrophe is this is not curtailed quickly.” China and the United States, accounting for 35% of the world’s carbon emissions, could make a huge difference with more ambitious targets, he added.