Despite the flurry of pledges made by governments so far at the COP26 climate summit, we are still on track for a disastrous level of global warming. According to a new analysis by Climate Action Tracker (CAT), COP26 “has a massive credibility, action and commitment gap”. In other words, there’s just not enough progress.
In 2015, almost every country agreed to limit global warming to 2ºC, ideally aiming for 1.5ºC, as part of the Paris Agreement. This would prevent even worse consequences from the climate crisis than the ones we are already experiencing all around the world, including species extinction, melting glaciers, and sea-level rise.
Governments have come to the UN climate change climate summit in Glasgow with a whole set of pledges and commitments to act on the climate crisis. Nevertheless, this is just not enough. As things stand right now, temperatures will increase 2.4º by the end of the century, according to the analysis by CAT based on the short-term goals by countries.
The researchers also found a big gap between what countries have said they will do on greenhouse gas emissions and what they’re actually doing. If current policies from governments are taken into account instead of just goals, global warming would reach 2.7ºC and not 2.4ºC, according to the analysis. A truly bleak scenario if this happens, as it would lead to more extreme weather events, sea-level rise, and plenty of other environmental problems.
“All countries have to go back and rethink what they can do. The only way to do that is to go on emergency mode. If we take baby steps every time it doesn’t work,” Niklas Höhne, one of the authors of the report and a climate researcher, said in a press conference at COP26, “Governments have to do something substantially different.”
The challenges ahead
The estimate by CAT is in sharp contrast with optimistic forecasts published last week, suggesting that global warming could be limited to 1.8ºC thanks to the commitments announced at COP26. Those initial estimates were based on long-term goals by countries for 2050, while CAT’s study looked at short-term ones for the next decade.
Governments attending the climate summit in Glasgow were asked to come here with two deliverables: an updated short-term climate plan, known as NDCs, and a long-term plan to reach net-zero emissions around mid-century. Emissions have to fall by about 45% this decade for global temperatures to remain within 1.5ºC, studies have shown.
While a large number of countries have recently signed to net-zero by 2050, the NDCs for actions in the next decade don’t match up to reality. If countries don’t act to lower their emissions in the coming two decades, the world could easily surpass the 1.5ºC limit even if carbon neutrality is reached later, according to the new analysis by CAT.
The key drivers for this bleak outlook are coal and gas, CAT argued. Meeting the Paris Agreement targets requires coal to be phased out by 2030 in developed countries and globally by 2040. The increase of natural gas is also not compatible with Paris, but this fossil fuel is expanding, with countries using it as a transition to renewable sources.
“Glasgow is meant to keep the Paris Agreement 1.5ºC target in sight. But the gap is still so big that we can’t see that being possible at the moment,” Bill Hare, one of the authors of the report, said in a press conference. “It’s all very well for leaders and governments to claim they have a net zero target but they don’t plan to get there. Glasgow has a big credibility gap”