The countries that signed on to the Paris Agreement will have to increase their 2015 carbon reduction promised by 80% to avoid the worst effects of climate change, according to a new study published this week in the journal Communications Earth & Environment.
“The study found that even if countries were to meet their existing pledges, the world has only about a 5% chance to limit the Earth’s warming to ‘well below’ 2°C/3.6°F over preindustrial levels—a key aim of the international agreement,” the Washington Post reports.
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University of Washington statistics professor Adrian Raftery and a colleague “calculated that global emissions would need to fall steadily—about 1.8% each year on average—to put the world on a more sustainable trajectory,” the Post adds. “While no two countries are alike, that amounts to overall emissions reductions roughly 80% more ambitious than those pledged under the Paris Agreement.”
Last December, the UN’s annual Emissions Gap Report put the world on track for 3.0°C average global warming.
“The commitments are not enough,” Raferty said of the voluntary Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) adopted in the first round of carbon reductions under the Paris deal. Countries are now developing a set of updated, accelerated NDCs ahead of COP 26, this year’s UN climate conference set for November in Glasgow.
The Post’s Brady Dennis notes that the need for faster, deeper carbon cuts in this second series of NDCs is no surprise.
“The architects of the Paris accord and numerous world leaders have long underscored that the pledges made in 2015 were not enough to limit warming to acceptable levels,” he writes. “The expectation was always that nations would grow more ambitious with time, and there is evidence that is happening.”
However, “as global emissions have continued to rise, as countries have failed to hit even modest targets and as the consequences of a warming world have become more tangible, the push for leaders to act more aggressively has become only more urgent,” he adds.
“Time is running out,” said NewClimate Institute co-founder and German climatologist Niklas Höhne. “The longer we wait, the more difficult it will be to turn emissions downward.”
The Post has details on the emissions pathways that would result from the current batch of Paris commitments and the implications for specific countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, and Brazil.
World Resources Institute Senior Associate Kelly Levin noted that recent policies adopted by several large countries could shift the trajectory on greenhouse gas emissions. “Given the recent momentum we have seen—for example, from the Biden administration’s recent executive orders, to bans of the internal combustion engine in countries and by companies—[the Raferty team] estimates, which are based on recent trends, are likely too conservative,” she told the Post.
But she said there’s still “a wide gulf between where emissions are headed today” and the reductions that will be needed to avert the worst impacts of the climate crisis.
Raferty agreed there are glimmers of hope. “I’m a bit surprised in a way to see it’s not as hopeless as I would have felt three years ago,” he told The Post. “It’s a heavy lift, but it’s not impossible.”
“The drive for net-zero emissions must become the new normal for everyone, everywhere,” UN Secretary General António Guterres said in a speech earlier this week. “At the same time, all commitments to net-zero must be underpinned by clear and credible plans to achieve them. Words are not enough.”