‘A dire warning’: National climate pledges aligned with 2.5C pathway, UN reveals

Pictured: Widlfires in California, September 2020

That is the conclusion of the UN’s climate change arm, UNFCCC, which has today (26 October) published its NDC Synthesis report. The report tracks the ‘gap’ between emissions reductions to date and those set to occur in future, with the level of reductions actually needed to limit global warming in line with the Paris Agreement.

According to the report, current Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) made to the Paris Agreement by nations and states would put the world on course for a 2.5C temperature increase between pre-industrial times and 2100. This is provided that the plans are implemented in full and to time, which is unlikely.

The report does post some progress. Last year, UNFCC warned that global annual emissions would be 13.7% higher in 2030 than in 2010. It projected a continued increase in emissions beyond 2030. Now, the body believes that emissions will likely peak in or before 2030, with most parties having strengthened their NDCs over the past 12 months.

However, this comes with a caveat. The report emphasizes that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has recommended a 43% reduction in annual global net emissions between 2019 and 2030 to give the world the best chance of limiting the global temperature increase to 1.5C. National pledges are nowhere near consistent with this level of decarbonisation.

“COP27 is the moment where global leaders can regain momentum on climate change, make the necessary pivot from negotiations to implementation and get moving on the massive transformation that must take place throughout all sectors of society to address the climate emergency,” said UNFCCC executive secretary Simon Stiell.

COP27, the UN’s climate summit, is set to begin in Sharm El-Sheikh in ten days. Nations have been asked to update NDCs ahead of the event, as they committed to doing last November in Glasgow. So far, less than 30 nations have done so. Stiell has called this “disappointing”.

Egypt’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and COP27 President, Sameh Shoukry, said that today’s report is a “timely reminder” and that the conference must “be the world’s watershed moment on climate action”.

Report reactions

Commenting on the report, Climate Crisis Advisory Group chair David King called it “a dire warning to all countries”.

King said:Despite calls for strengthened NDCs at COP26, contributions since amount to a reduction of less than 1% of projected global emissions by 2030. We need to see global emissions reduced by a minimum of 30-45% by 2030 – however, even if all promises are delivered, we’re currently on track for a meager 5-10%.

“Staying within 1.5°C by 2030 assumed that the whole planet was warming evenly. What that target and this report fails to address is the feedback loops we are seeing in the Arctic Circle region, which is already 3°C warmer than pre-industrial levels. Any system-wide transformation in the name of net zero must account for the fact that the Arctic tipping point has already been passed, and the cascading impacts that will follow if we fail to repair this region.

“It is of the utmost priority that we implement deep and rapid emissions reductions, remove existing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere at scale, and repair the Arctic – alongside other parts of the climate system that are beyond their tipping points. Without doing so, we will fly blind into a large-scale climate catastrophe.”

Also commenting on the report is Carbon Trust’s director Simon Retallack, who said the Paris Agreement ”will be meaningless unless all of the world’s governments take their responsibilities seriously”.

He said:  “Today’s report shows just how far we still need to go. Net-zero is the most comprehensive goal we have for securing a liveable planet, and to achieve it we need more than just warm words. With just under two weeks to go before the next COP, world leaders should be honouring the pledge they made at the COP in Glasgow to submit revised NDCs this year which strengthen targets for 2030 to put us on track to reach Net Zero by the middle of the century, followed by detailed implementation plans.”

The Energy and Climate Change Intelligence Unit’s (ECIU) international lead Gareth Redmond-King also expressed concerns that even though NDCs are “too little, too slow”, many nations are failing to even deliver these commitments.

IEMA’s chief executive Sarah Mukherjee said: “Ultimately, NDCs are only as powerful as the policies used to implement them. IEMA is calling on policymakers around the world to provide the right policy frameworks to urgently deliver on their commitments.”

Health impacts

In related news, The Lancet has today published its 2022 report on health and climate change, entitled ‘Countdown’. The Lancet has stated that climate change is “the greatest global health threat” of this century and called for approaches to reducing emissions and building climate resilience that also bring about public health benefits.

The report warns that climate change is already impacting public health and worker productivity. It notes that, in 2021, $669bn of potential income loss was recorded due to heat. The agriculture sector was the worst hit and, geographically, the Global South fared worse than developed nations.

The Lancet has tracked an uptick in heat-related deaths and cases of hunger. Heat-related deaths among elderly people and infants were 68% higher in 2018-2021 than in 2000-2004.

It is also warning of the link between warming temperatures and extreme weather events and infectious diseases. Upticks are evidenced in cases of malaria in the Americas and Africa, and of dengue transmission in Africa and Asia.

Worryingly, the report reveals that five nations are spending more on fossil fuel subsidies than on national health, including Egypt and Iran. A further 26 countries are spending more than 10% of what they allocate to national health on fossil fuel subsidies.

There are still opportunities to change track, the report states, which would reap benefits for people and planet. It argues that clean energy investments could prevent 1.3 million deaths globally each year, predominantly through improvements in air quality. It reiterates the link between plant-based diets, good public health and reducing agri-food emissions.

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