Without renewed ambition at the national level—and most urgently by the United States—the very best efforts by cities, regional governments, and the private sector to rein in greenhouse gas emissions will be insufficient to avoid dangerous levels of atmospheric warming, according to a recent data analytics study by an international team of researchers and programmers.
Conducted by Data-Driven Yale, the study evaluated the climate change pledges made by nearly 6,000 subnational governments and more than 2,000 companies, with combined revenues that approximate that of the U.S. economy. The team calculated “a total projected reduction of between 1.5 and 2.2 billion tons of greenhouse gases by 2030,” The Guardian reports. Unfortunately, such reductions will “fall short of enabling countries to avoid breaching agreed thresholds for dangerous warming that will trigger increased heat waves, mightier storms, rising seas, and displacement of people.”
[Still, those sub-national and private sector initiatives have been carrying the momentum while climate advocates wait impatiently, and organize persistently, for mid-term elections to shift the momentum in the United States. Mid-terms are just 59 days and 15 hours away.—Ed.]
“When we look at the individual pledges [by cities, regions and businesses], the impact isn’t that large, so we absolutely need national governments to pull through and do a lot of the heavy lifting,” said Data-Driven Yale Director Dr. Angel Hsu.
The Trump administration itself is a deadweight on the climate action, The Guardian notes, flagging the Environmental Protection Agency’s recent announcement of a “watered-down climate policy for the energy sector that might even result in emissions rising from coal plants.” That attack on President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan comes alongside the near certainty Trump will follow through on his threat to withdraw his country from the Paris Agreement.
But “even if every Paris commitment is fully implemented, the world is on track to warm by around 3.3°C by the end of the century,” The Guardian notes, citing John Sterman, director of the systems dynamics group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Paris Agreement in itself was never expected to put the world on a path to a 2.0°C target for average global warming, much less the 1.5°C endpoint that now looks increasingly essential to avert the worst effects of climate change. But in lieu of a deal to hit the goal in a single shot, countries signed on to a process in 2015 by which they would gradually, and mutually, scale down their emissions and increase their climate ambition over time.
So far, “the world is in a desperate race between accelerating climate change and the innovation needed to cut emissions before it’s too late,” Sterman told the Guardian. “Cities, states, and business are in the lead, but they face stiff headwinds from weak national policies and the continued efforts of fossil fuel interests to undermine the innovation we need.”
“We are already in an overshoot situation, and it’s likely we are already going to need to remove carbon from the air,” added Klaus Lackner, director of the Center for Negative Carbon Emissions at Arizona State University.
“Cities getting involved is good and important, but we haven’t really acknowledged how big and serious the challenge is,” he said. “We are whistling in the dark.”