After a week of back-to-back climate pledges that had the head of the International Energy Agency (IEA) declaring a moment of celebration at a COP 26 side event Thursday, a report from Climate Analytics aims to temper world leaders’ optimism until short-term emissions targets ramp up.
“Because global warming is tied directly to the total sum of all CO2 emissions, each year of delayed action to 2030 will limit our ability to keep warming to 1.5°C by 2100,” writes Climate Analytics.
Last week, the IEA reassessed worldwide emissions targets under its Announced Pledges Scenario to factor in the slew of new pledges during the first week of the COP. The Paris-based agency found that the new commitments—on top of older ones— would be enough to hold the rise in global temperatures to 1.8°C by the end of the century.
While that estimate indicates progress compared to the 2.7°C threshold contained in multiple science reports before the COP, the IEA cautioned that “we still fall well short of what is needed to keep the door open to 1.5 °C, [which] would require rapid progress on reducing emissions between now and 2030.” The agency pointed to a 60% gap in the reductions needed by 2030 to hit the Paris target, observing that “governments are making bold promises for future decades, but short-term action is insufficient.”
But those details were left out of the “optimistic narrative” emerging from IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol’s animated optimism at a COP 26 session Thursday, veteran climate policy analysts’ misgivings notwithstanding. Climate Analytics responded with a report that elevates the policy deficits cited in the IEA’s report.
“Delayed action observed in the pledge scenario leads to significant and avoidable warming beyond 1.5°C, which would be crossed sometime in the 2030s,” the analysts state. “The [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] has repeatedly confirmed the drastic increases in risks for ecosystems and livelihoods, as well as risks of crossing tipping points if warming was to exceed 1.5°C.”
The Paris climate agreement sets emissions benchmarks that are “as likely as not” to keep warming below 1.5°C and calls for pathways with a “very high chance” of keeping temperatures within 2.0°C above pre-industrial levels, Climate Analytics adds. But the scenario recently laid out by IEA “does not have these characteristics, and is not compatible with the Paris Agreement’s long-term temperature goal.”
And most important, all parties agree that the gains projected in the Announced Pledges Scenario still rely on countries and businesses keeping their promises.
“What is essential is for governments to turn their pledges into clear and credible policy actions and strategies today,” the IEA says. “Ambitions count for little if they are not implemented successfully,” and there need to be pathways for tracking and accountability to keep countries and companies true to their word.
That means the global community risks making the Paris agreement an unreachable target unless it fulfills pledges to immediately cut emissions. Looking back to another recent report, Climate Analytics shows that G20 countries can limit temperature rise to 1.7°C by aligning their 2030 targets with the Paris target, then achieving [real] net-zero by mid-century. This scenario keeps 1.5°C in reach but requires a “substantial narrowing of the 2030 emissions gap.”
“In contrast, the IEA’s Announced Pledges Scenario still leaves an enormous gap in 2030,” Climate Analytics writes.