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Analysis finds climate pledges 'fall far short'

The world's promised cuts in greenhouse gases come nowhere close to fulfilling the 2015 Paris Agreement, according to a new U.N. analysis.

A collapsed block of permafrost along Drew Point, Alaska (AN/Benjamin Jones)
A collapsed block of permafrost along Drew Point, Alaska

The world's promised cuts in greenhouse gases come nowhere close to fulfilling the 2015 Paris Agreement's goal of preventing temperatures from rising much more above pre-industrial levels, according to a new U.N. analysis on Friday.

Those pledges will lower global emissions less than 1% below 2010 levels by 2030, said the analysis by U.N. Climate Change, secretariat of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC, a treaty platform for climate talks.

The Paris accord requires emissions cuts of at least 45% below 2010 levels to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius, based on estimates from the world’s leading group of climate experts, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC. And it requires cuts of at least 25% below 2010 levels to achieve an upper limit of 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels.

But the latest targets — termed Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs — "fall far short of what is required, demonstrating the need for parties to further strengthen their mitigation commitments under the Paris Agreement," the 32-page analysis concluded.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres called 2021 "a make or break year" to confront the global climate emergency. He said the science clearly shows the need to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees by cutting emissions by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030.

"Today’s interim report from the UNFCCC is a red alert for our planet," he said. "It shows governments are nowhere close to the level of ambition needed to limit climate change to 1.5 degrees and meet the goals of the Paris Agreement."

Jettisoning the 'old normal'

The analysis was prepared so the world could assess its progress, or lack thereof, towards making the global climate talks a success in November. The talks were postponed for a year due to the coronavirus pandemic, the two co-hosts, Britain and Italy, announced last year. They were rescheduled for November 1 to 12 of this year in Glasgow, Scotland.

Guterres said all major carbon emitters must "step up with much more ambitious emissions reductions targets for 2030" in their NDCs. Nations accounting for only 30% of global greenhouse gases submitted new or updated NDCs last year, the analysis said.

That concerning "snapshot" of climate plans show the talks scheduled for Glasgow "must be the moment when we get on track towards a green, clean, healthy and prosperous world," said U.N. Climate Change's executive secretary, Patricia Espinosa.

Nations' plans for economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, particularly among the Group of 20 major economies, offer an opportunity to rebuild by casting off "the old normal," Espinosa added. "Major emitters, especially G-20 nations, must lead the way."

The world's top greenhouse gas emitters — China, the United States and India — and most other countries missed the December 31 deadline for submitting national emissions-cutting targets ahead of the Glasgow talks. And just two of the top 18 emitters, Britain and the European Union, significantly raised their emissions-cutting targets.