'Time is running out': Climate summit not on track to reach objective

'Time is running out': Climate summit not on track to reach objective
Credit: Unsplash/Chris Leboutillier

New projections released by the UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) and the Climate Action Tracker on Wednesday show that the climate change conference in Glasgow is not on track to reach the objective of limiting global warming to 1.5℃ by 2030.

“This analysis is another shot across the bow, another red alert for humanity,” commented WWF Chief Climate Advisor, Dr Stephen Cornelius. “Time is running out. Leaders must listen to the voices on the streets calling for action not words, and commit in Glasgow to drastically increase the ambition of their climate action plans and deliver credible action, powerful policies and ambitious funding now.”

UNEP published its Emissions Gap Report on 26 October where it warned that the world was on track for a global temperature rise of at least 2.7°C this century. The updated nationally determined contributions (NDCs) at that point of time would only take an additional 7.5 % off predicted annual greenhouse gas emissions in 2030.

According to that report, when all other greenhouse gases are taken into account, annual emissions are close to 60 GtCO2e (gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent). To have a chance of reaching the 1.5°C target, the worlds needed to almost halve greenhouse gas emissions. For the 2°C target, the additional need is lower, a drop in annual emissions of 13 GtCO2e by 2030.

The update of the gap report, which quotes the Climate Action Tracker as one of the sources, is described as a preliminary assessment of the impact of new or updated NDCs, other 2030 pledges and net-zero emissions pledges announced or submitted since the cut-off dates of the previous report.

The new document, prepared by the same authors as those of the gap report, also includes an analysis of the implications for the emissions gap for 2030, an update on net-zero emissions pledges, with a focus on G20 members, and a description of the implications for estimated global warming at the end of the century under current policies, 2030 pledges and net-zero scenarios.

The update considers 33 new mitigation pledges for 2030 as of 4 November 2021 made since the cut-off date applied in the Emissions Gap Report 2021. The total number of mitigation pledges for 2030 considered is now 152, covering 88% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The potential impacts of additional sectoral and non-state pledges made during the first week of COP26 are not considered in the update because they cannot be attributed to individual countries and there can be significant overlap between such announcements and what is covered as part of national mitigation pledges.

It should be noticed that the announcement of India of emission reductions it is not estimated to lead to further reductions in global GHG emissions in this preliminary assessment. Nor is the announcement of Brazil to reduce its emissions by 50% below 2005 levels included, as this was not included in its updated NDC submission.

The aggregate impact of all new or updated unconditional NDCs and other announced pledges is estimated to lead to a total reduction in 2030 global GHG emissions of about 4.8 GtCO2e compared with prior pledges. This reduction is only 0.7 GtCO2e greater than that reported in the Emissions Gap Report 2021.

Projected emissions in 2030 under the unconditional NDC and pledge scenario are 51.5 GtCO2e (median estimate). Emissions under the conditional NDC and pledge scenario are estimated at 48 GtCO2e.

What does it mean for the emission gap?

While the gap has narrowed a few percent, the changes do not affect the conclusion ahead of the conference that a significant increase in 2030 mitigation pledge ambition and acceleration of action is required to get the world on a path consistent with the Paris Agreement temperature goal.

Even considering the recent updated pledges for 2030, annual global GHG emissions would need to be roughly halved by 2030 to become consistent with a 1.5°C least-cost pathway, UNEP writes.

A factor which could affect the chances to reduce global warming are the net-zero emissions pledges by the mid of the century. Since the gap report, 25 additional countries have announced net-zero emissions pledges, implying that 76% of global domestic emissions are now covered by net-zero announcements.

A table in the update shows where the G20 countries stand. A majority of them, among them the US, the EU and the EU members in G20, have pledged to reach net-zero emission by 2050. Other countries have pledged a later year and not enshrined the objective in law: China (2060), India (2070), Russia (2060) and Saudi-Arabia (2060).

However, net-zero pledges still show a number of ambiguities, such as the sectors and gases covered, the inclusion of offsets and of international aviation and shipping emissions, and the lack of transparency regarding the plans for achievement and on reporting and reviewing progress. Furthermore, few of the G20 members' NDC targets put emissions on a clear path towards net-zero pledges.

UNEP concludes that when the effects of full implementation of the latest updates of unconditional and conditional NDCs are projected out to 2100, warming over the 21st century is projected to be limited to 2.7°C and 2.5°C, respectively, with a 66% probability. These estimates remain very similar to the estimates published in the Emissions Gap Report 2021 due to limited changes to 2030 emissions.

Finally, when the full implementation of all net-zero pledges and announcement to date are taken into account in addition to the updated unconditional and conditional NDCs, warming over the 21st century is projected to be limited to 2.1°C. For a 90% probability, projected temperatures are 2.5°C (range: 2.3°C–2.8°C) and 2.4°C (range: 2.2°C–2.7°C), respectively.

Just before the update was published, Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans, in charge of EU’s climate action, was still cautiously optimistic. At a COP26 EU press conference in Glasgow on Tuesday, he said that, “There might be some gaps here and there, but we’re still on track to stay well below two degrees and we are still on track to have a shot at the 1.5.”

COP26 ends on Friday. Not much time for the negotiators from EU and all the other countries participating in the conference to do their utmost to agree on further emissions reductions by 2030. If not, they might get another shot at COP27 next year.

M. Apelblat

The Brussels Times

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