UN Sends Dire Warning Over Global Progress on Emissions Goals

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A United Nations report released Friday totals up new national climate commitments and concludes that the effort “falls far short” of what’s necessary to slow global warming.

How far short? To have a chance of meeting the Paris Agreement’s lower limit of 1.5° Celsius of warming, nations must cut their emissions of carbon dioxide to 45% below their 2010 level by 2030 and eliminate their impact completely by mid-century. But by meeting all of the updated commitments, countries would lower their CO₂ emissions by just half a percent. 

The report looks at “nationally determined contributions,” or NDCs, from the 47 countries plus the European Union that updated their commitments by the end of 2020. NDCs are individual countries’ climate-action pledges, and range from plans to slow or reduce emissions, provide finance to poorer nations, or adapt infrastructure and people to changing conditions. 

“While the UN report paints a grim picture, it’s not the whole picture,” said Taryn Fransen and David Waskow of the research nonprofit World Resources Institute in response to the findings. Together, the countries included in the UN analysis make up about 40% of Paris Agreement signatories and 30% of global greenhouse-gas emissions, leaving almost three-quarters of nations yet to signal their next round of goals. “What the remaining countries do collectively over the next nine months will be decisive.” 

There were strong performers lost in the bad news, the World Resources Institute found, including impressive progress from the European Union, U.K., Columbia, and Argentina toward stronger goals.

The U.S., the world’s second-largest annual and largest historical emitter, has rejoined the Paris Agreement but not yet released its new NDC. White House National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy has characterized the upcoming commitment as the country’s “most aggressive” carbon reduction commitment yet, and said that the numbers should be expected before a U.S.-hosted climate summit on April 22. 

President Joe Biden’s administration has vowed to guide the U.S. toward a zero-carbon economy by 2050. More than half of G20 nations have committed to that goal, among 58 countries representing half of global emissions.

The new NDCs as a whole show not only slightly higher ambitions on cutting emissions and adaptation, but also marked attention to building in equality for women and indigenous peoples to their climate commitments. Countries are promising to ensure greater gender equality “as a means of increasing the ambition and effectiveness of their climate action,” the UN authors write.

The UN climate secretariat will follow up this preliminary report with a final tally before global negotiations to be held in Glasgow November. 

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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