Just two years after 195 countries adopted a modest but challenging set of carbon reduction goals through the Paris agreement, governments are already falling short of their collective promise to hold average global warming below 2.0°C and work toward a stretch target of 1.5° by mid-century.
With the United States set to withdraw from the Paris deal, other countries showing signs of falling short on their pledges, and greenhouse gas emissions on track to increase 1.8% this year, “it’s not fast enough. It’s not big enough,” said Corinne Le Quéré, director of the UK’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. “There’s not enough action.”
- Concise headlines. Original content. Timely news and views from a select group of opinion leaders. Special extras.
- Everything you need, nothing you don’t.
- The Weekender: The climate news you need.
“Tremendous gains in energy efficiency and renewable power aren’t yet reducing our global hunger for fossil fuels, especially oil and natural gas,” agreed Stanford University energy and climate specialist Rob Jackson. “Until they do, greenhouse gas concentrations will keep rising.”
The reasons for the shortfall vary, the Washington Post reports—from Brazil’s struggles with deforestation, to countries like Turkey and Indonesia (not to mention Poland, host of this year’s UN climate conference) planning new coal plants, to Germany’s effort to ramp up its renewable energy economy while still burning coal, to the outright, nihilistic hostility of the Trump administration.
“There’s still time for the world to set itself on a more sustainable track; many countries have until 2030 to meet their initial targets,” the Post notes. “But when policy-makers from around the world gather at a key U.N. climate meeting in Poland later this year, countries will be forced to reckon with the difference between how much they say they want to limit the warming of the planet and how little they actually are doing to make that happen.”
Countries knew in Paris that their combined greenhouse gas reduction pledges would be inadequate to meet the 2.0°C target, much less the more ambitious 1.5°C goal. “There’s this inherent conflict between the global goals and the national contributions,” said NewClimate Institute founder Niklas Höhne. Erik Solheim, executive director of the UN Environment Programme, pointed to world leaders as a barrier to faster, deeper cuts.
“Change is always difficult, and politicians are risk-averse,” he told the Post. “Some people still believe going green creates fewer jobs, when the opposite is actually the case.”
Solheim noted that the post-carbon transition is shaping up faster than most people realize, with renewable energy costs falling and climate action now extending to states, cities, and the world’s largest corporations. But the Post notes that this year’s UN climate conference will feature a make-or-break dialogue that is supposed to “nudge world leaders to assess where they stand on the need to cut emissions and how far they have to go” to hit a more ambitious target. Poland is already signaling that it wants to damp down ambition around that discussion process.
“By 2020, countries are expected to actually ramp up the promises they made in Paris,” write reporters Brady Dennis and Chris Mooney. “The problem, experts say, is that if the world’s emissions don’t start declining decisively by then—and declining fast—it may be too late to stave off devastating sea level rise, crippling droughts and storms, and other catastrophic effects of climate change.”