Governments doing too little to keep 1.5ºC goal alive, UN warns

Major new climate change report calls on countries to raise their ambitions at Cop28

A man evacuates horses as a wildfire burns near the village of Pournari, Greece, this summer. Photo: Reuters
Powered by automated translation

Countries are only taking “baby steps” to tackle climate change and current plans won't stop warming by 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, a UN report has warned.

The UN Climate Change report said action remains “insufficient” to meet the goals of the 2015 Paris deal, despite some nations trying to increase their efforts.

Released on Tuesday, the report called for more urgency and ambition at Cop28 to bring down warming emissions and avoid the worst effects of climate change, such as more frequent and severe droughts, heatwaves and rainfall.

Leaders will meet in Dubai from November 30 to December 12 for the crucial talks that will tackle the escalating climate crisis in a year that has seen new heat records set and extreme weather events become more common.

“The world is failing to get a grip on the climate crisis,” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said in a statement on Tuesday.

“Inch-by-inch progress will not do. It is time for a climate ambition supernova in every country, city and sector,” said Mr Gutterres, calling for countries to scale up renewable energy, phase out coal and ultimately phase out all fossil fuels in line with achieving global net-zero emissions by 2050. Net zero typically means trying to not add to the total amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

“Cop28 must be the place to urgently close the climate ambition gap,” he said.

What is Cop28?

What is Cop28?

The report highlighted how, by 2030, warming emissions are projected to be two per cent below 2019 levels which is way off where they should be to achieve the 1.5ºC goal.

“Today’s report shows that governments combined are taking baby steps to avert the climate crisis,” said the executive secretary of UN Climate Change, Simon Stiell. “And it shows why governments must make bold strides forward at Cop28 in Dubai to get on track,” he said.

“This means Cop28 must be a clear turning point. Governments must not only agree on what stronger climate actions will be taken but also start showing exactly how to deliver them.”

Under the Paris deal, leaders agreed to “pursue efforts” to limit warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. But the world has warmed already by just over 1°C with the UN warning it could be headed for more than 2°C. Scientists believe if this threshold is breached, billions of people could be affected by levels of heat and humidity that damage their health.

At the summit, leaders will assess how the world is measuring up to the goals of the Paris deal in what is known as the “global stocktake”. This also informs the next round of national climate action plans – known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs) – to be put forward by 2025. The latest science from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change indicates that greenhouse gas emissions need to be cut by 43 per cent by 2030, compared to 2019 levels to avoid the worst impact.

Call for decisive action at Cop28

“Every fraction of a degree matters but we are severely off track,” said Mr Stiell. “Cop28 is our time to change that. It’s time to show the massive benefits now of bolder climate action: more jobs, higher wages, economic growth, opportunity and stability, less pollution and better health.”

In the “NDC synthesis report”, UN Climate Change analysed the NDCs of 195 parties to the Paris deal, including 20 new or updated NDCs submitted up until September 25. The report showed that while emissions are expected to decline after 2030, compared with 2019 levels, they are still not demonstrating the “rapid downwards trend” science says is necessary this decade.

If the latest available NDCs are implemented, current commitments will increase emissions by about 8.8 per cent, compared with 2010 levels. This is a small improvement over last year’s assessment, which found countries were on a path to increase emissions 10.6 per cent by 2030, compared with 2010 levels.

By 2030 emissions are projected to be 2 per cent below 2019 levels, highlighting that peaking of global emissions will occur within this decade.

To achieve peak emissions before 2030, the report says “the conditional elements of the NDCs need to be implemented, which depends mostly on access to enhanced financial resources; technology transfer and technical co-operation; and capacity-building support; as well as the availability of market-based mechanisms”.

“Using the global stocktake to plan ahead, we can make Cop28 a game-changer,” said Mr Stiell. “And provide a springboard for a two-year climate action surge. We need to rebuild trust in the Paris process, which means delivering on all commitments, particularly on finance, the great enabler of climate action. And ensuring that we are increasing resilience to climate impacts everywhere.”

Dr Sultan Al Jaber, Cop28 President-designate, said the report underlined there was no time for delay.

“Cop28 must be a historic turning point in this critical decade for parties to seize the moment of the global stocktake to commit to raise their ambition and to unite, act and deliver outcomes that keep 1.5ºC within reach, while leaving no one behind,” he said.

Long-term low-emission development strategies

A second UN Climate Change report on long-term low-emission development strategies, also released on Tuesday, looked at countries’ plans to transition to net-zero emissions by or around midcentury.

The report indicated that these countries’ greenhouse gas emissions could be roughly 63 per cent per cent lower in 2050 than in 2019 if all the long-term strategies are fully implemented on time.

Current long-term strategies (representing 75 parties to the Paris deal) account for 87 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product; 68 per cent of the global population in 2019; and around 77 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2019. This is a strong signal that the world is starting to aim for net-zero emissions, the report said.

The report notes, however, that many net-zero targets remain uncertain and postpone critical action that needs to take place now.

Updated: November 15, 2023, 7:11 AM