/ 23 November 2023

We are nowhere where we need to be in fighting climate change

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Photo: Getty Images

Remember the Paris Agreement? This was the agreement signed at the 2015 UN climate change conference of parties, COP21, where countries pledged to lower carbon emissions in a bid to stem climate change. 

In Paris countries agreed to the following:

“Substantially reduce global greenhouse gas emissions to hold global temperature increase to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognising that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.”

Countries also agreed to provide finance to developing countries to deal with climate change in terms of mitigation, become more resilient and strengthen their abilities to adapt.

The agreement also saw countries commit to periodically take stock of progress made in combating climate change through national climate action plans — nationally determined contributions (NDCs). The UN’s recently released Emissions Gap Report: Temperatures hit new highs, yet world fails to cut emissions (again) “finds that the world is heading for a temperature rise far above the Paris Agreement goals unless countries deliver more than they have promised”.

Emissions gap report

The report (using an image of a broken, semi-melting record) found that there have been around 86 days this year where temperatures have shot past the goal of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. September was the hottest month ever and it shattered previous records by 0.5°C, with global average temperatures at 1.8°C above pre-industrial levels.

The report found that if we don’t curb greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 we will definitely go past warming to 1.5°C and the chances of reaching 2°C are highly likely. 

The report calls for more robust NDCs which will be renewed in 2025.

“Current and historical emissions are highly unequally distributed within and among countries, reflecting global patterns of inequality.” This was the second key finding of the report, it’s no surprise at all. 

Around 80% of emissions came from G20 countries, including the US, China and countries in the EU. By contrast, the least developed countries contributed a miserly 4%.

The situation is not all doom and gloom. Predictions in Paris believed greenhouse gas emissions would increase by 16% by 2030, but on current trajectory it will only be 3%. But if the aim is to ensure global warming is kept to 2°C, greenhouse gas emissions must come down significantly, around 28% of what it currently is. To keep global warming at the ideal 1.5°C, greenhouse gas emissions need to come down by 42% of what it currently is. These are drastic cuts that need to happen.

“As things stand, fully implementing unconditional NDCs made under the Paris Agreement would put the world on track for limiting temperature rise to 2.9°C above pre-industrial levels this century. Fully implementing conditional NDCs would lower this to 2.5°C.”

Countries have increased their net zero pledges which are pledges to have their emissions down to zero by 2030 but there is little global confidence in this. 

Continuing at this level predicts that we will reach 3°C by the end of the century. There is about a 14% chance that we limit global warming to 1.5°C by the end of the century, but it is likely that the 2°C threshold will be reached.

Hotting up

Another study by Climate Central, stated that “the past 12 months were the hottest on record, with an average temperature above 1.3°C”. 

It found that 90% of people (7.3 billion) experienced at least 10 days of temperatures very strongly affected by climate change, and 73% (5.8 billion) experienced more than a month’s worth of these temperatures. These were all made more likely by human-caused climate change.

A group called Zero Carbon Analytics, an international research group, echoed these findings in their own research. They found that “June, July, August, September and October this year were unambiguously the hottest months since records began in the mid-1800s”.

Their findings indicated that it is likely there is only six years left until we blow our remaining carbon budget to keep warming below 1.5°C.

The impacts of climate change will only worsen. The year was characterised by some major climate catastrophes including heat waves, fires and floods.

Their findings include that El Nino was a part of the reason for the heat and human-made climate change will increase these events making them more unpredictable. 

Looking ahead

Carbon dioxide must be reduced and greenhouse gas emissions cannot continue.

UNEP executive director Inger Andersen in a statement said that change must happen “in the form of economy-wide, low-carbon development transformations, with a strong focus on energy. The coal, oil and gas extracted over the lifetime of producing and planned mines and fields would wipe out almost the whole remaining carbon budget for 2°C — and obliterate the 1.5°C budget many times over.”

Andersen reiterated that governments can’t keep pledging to cut emissions under the Paris Agreement and then greenlighting huge fossil fuels projects. She believed it is throwing the global energy transition, and humanity’s future, into question.  

At this year’s COP28 event in Dubai in the UAE, the global stocktake will take prominence, it is the inventory that tracks countries’ progress in addressing climate change since the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement and based on submissions from parties to the agreement.

It will inform discussions for the way forward. Finance will be a key topic as always. Rich, developed countries need to curb their greenhouse gas emissions as a matter of urgency, without this, it’s safe to assume that climate change on a scale that is detrimental to people will happen way sooner than expected. 

At the same time, they need to make serious work in providing developed countries the support they need to deal with the pending crisis.