While countries are bending the curve of global greenhouse emissions downward, they're not moving fast enough to stop the world from warming enough to cause major devastation, according to a new UN report.
Since the Paris Agreement to limit global warming was signed seven years ago, national governments have committed to take actions to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions -- the heat-trapping gases that are causing global warming.
The latest commitments from nations will result in a nearly 11% increase in greenhouse gas emissions from 2010 levels versus a nearly 14% rise in emissions based on commitments from just a year ago.
That's better than nothing, but the world needs to do a lot more to get below 2ºC. As David Wallace Wells wrote in The New York Times the new projections move the world "beyond catastrophe"but into uncharted waters that still will be deadly for hundreds of thousands of people.
“The downward trend in emissions expected by 2030 shows that nations have made some progress this year,” said Simon Stiell, Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change.
That 1.5 degree target is crucial because it amounts to a sort of upper limit of what the balance of the world's ecosystems can withstand.
Even at 1.5 degrees things don't look great. People around the world already experience food and water scarcity, displacement from severe flooding, forest fires, tornados and hurricanes. And that's with just 1.1ºC of warming.
Scientists also fear that beyond 1.5 degrees of warming certain natural ecosystems that are keeping temperatures cooler could collapse, causing even more warming and pushing populations closer to the brink of what's habitable on Earth.
As Lauren Leffer wrote in Gizmodo:
... at about 2 C (3.6 F) of warming, 99% of coral reefs die off. We lose large sections of the Antarctic Ice Sheet. The Amazon Rainforest dies back. We could lose nearly a million square miles of permafrost. Each of these things, in turn, exacerbates and accelerates climate change by releasing stored carbon and/or reducing the Earth’s ability to absorb greenhouse gases and reflect heat. If enough tipping points are reached, we might lose control of climate change entirely—the planet could become it’s own self-propelling runaway train.
So, when the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that emissions need to be cut 45% compared to 2010 levels and instead it looks like emissions are going to increase by at least 10% up to 2030 -- that's bad.
“We are still nowhere near the scale and pace of emission reductions required to put us on track toward a 1.5 degrees Celsius world. To keep this goal alive, national governments need to strengthen their climate action plans now and implement them in the next eight years," said Stiell.
So far, only 24 nations have updated their climate plans ahead of the next round of negotiations in Egypt set for later in November.
“The fact that only 24 new or updated climate plans were submitted since COP 26 is disappointing,” said Stiell. "Government decisions and actions must reflect the level of urgency, the gravity of the threats we are facing, and the shortness of the time we have remaining to avoid the devastating consequences of runaway climate change.”
No country has yet to put forward a plan that addresses all of the steps that a government would need to take now to reduce emissions effectively, according to the UN report.
Stiell is urging national governments to come to COP 27 to show how they will put the Paris Agreement to work in their home countries through legislation, policies and programs, as well as how they will cooperate and provide support for implementation. He is also calling for nations to make progress at COP 27 in four priority areas: mitigation, adaptation, loss and damage, and finance.
"This is a sobering moment, and we are in a race against time. Several of those who are expected to do more, are far from doing enough, and the consequences of this is affecting lives and livelihoods across the globe," said Sameh Shoukry, Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs and COP27 President-Designate. "The report from UN Climate Change and before that from the IPCC are a timely reminder for all of us. Raising ambition and urgent implementation is indispensable for addressing the climate crisis. This includes cutting and removing emissions faster and at wider scope of economic sectors, to protect us from more severe adverse climate impacts and devastating loss and damage.”