Without more aggressive action to slow the Earth-warming emissions that result from driving gas-powered cars and powering our lives with fossil fuels, the planet remains at great risk in just a few generations.
Only 26 of 193 countries that agreed last year to quicken climate actions have followed through with more ambitious plans to curb greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), according to the latest report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) out Wednesday.
That means without more aggressive reductions in GHG emissions, the planet is on track to warm by an average of 2.1 to 2.9 degrees Celsius, compared with preindustrial levels, by 2100.
Such an increase far exceeds the goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) set by the landmark Paris agreement in 2015, and it crosses the threshold beyond which many scientists say the likelihood of catastrophic climate impacts — such as drought, hunger, eroding coastlines, and more — significantly increases.
“We’re bending the curve on emissions downwards, they are projected to go in the right direction,” U.N. climate change executive secretary Simon Stiell said at a press conference Wednesday.
“But they are not going down enough fast enough, far enough — this is nowhere near the scale of emissions reductions required to put us on track toward a 1.5C world,” he said.
Wednesday’s report hits just a few weeks before nations are set to gather at U.N. climate talks in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, for the Conference of Parties, or COP27.
And it arrives with the U.K. and Brazil in political turmoil, and with the Russian attack on Ukraine having disrupted global energy markets.
In fact, Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, the Paris-based organization that represents the world’s largest oil-consuming
countries, said this week “the world is in the middle of its first truly global energy crisis.”
The U.N. report analyzed the commitments made by countries to cut their emissions, known as nationally determined contributions, or NDCs. Countries that signed the 2015 Paris agreement promised to update and strengthen their commitments every five years. But in 2021, nations agreed not to wait another five years and instead pledged to make new commitments before the climate talks that begin Nov. 7 in Egypt.
While the consequences of heating above that 2-degree threshold are deemed to be catastrophic, the existing warming of 1.1C above pre-industrial times has already resulted in some irreversible changes, the report warned.
Climate scientists broadly estimate that human-caused greenhouse gas emissions need to be cut by 50% by the end of this decade, and to be eliminated by mid-century in order to keep warming below 2C by 2100. The U.S., under the Biden administration, has aimed for a 50% reduction by 2030, and net-zero emissions by 2050.
The world’s top two polluters, China and the U.S., have taken some policy steps but have not pledged greater action this year, and climate negotiations between the two have been largely on hold.
China is one of the major holdouts on new emission-cutting commitments, although it surprised much of the world with a targeted net-zero plan issued ahead of the U.N. summit last year. China, at that time, set 2060 as its likely decade to flip to net-zero emissions. China has said its CO2 emissions will continue to grow until they peak by 2030, but it has not set targets for reducing other greenhouse gases, such as methane. Its methane emissions, a more-potent, but shorter-lasting GHG, are enough to equal the total emissions of smaller nations.
Last year, China said it would stop building coal-burning power plants overseas. As of August, only about 26 out of 104 such projects had been terminated.
Earlier this week, the European Union said it would increase its emissions reductions pledges “as soon as possible,” but was limited to act before member states agreed on a number of upcoming climate laws.