Inconsistent pledges pull back climate change effort

Saturday October 30 2021

At least 12 G20 members have pledged a net-zero target, but they are still ambiguous. Out of nine G20 member plans assessed in the report, five are on a linear pathway to net-zero. PHOTO | FILE


The world is still on the perilous path to a global temperature rise of 2.7 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, even with the new pledges to reduce emissions in an attempt to curb climate change.

Describing them as weak, the global authority for the environment—United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) — says new and updated Nationally Determined Contributions only take 7.5 percent off predicted 2030 emissions—only a fraction of the 55 percent that needs to be taken off to meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius Paris Agreement target.

“We are still on track for a climate catastrophe,” said United Nations Secretary general, António Guterres on Tuesday during the launch of UNEP’s new Emissions Gap Report 2021, The heat is on.

“We know that humanity’s future depends on keeping global temperature increase below 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2030,” he said, noting that humanity had failed to keep the Paris Agreement target within reach, adding, “and the report also shows that countries are squandering the massive opportunity to invest Covid-19 fiscal and recovery resources in sustainable, planet-saving ways. So far, the report estimates that only about 20 percent of recovery investments will support the green economy.”

“Even if the latest commitments were to materialise, the Emissions Gap Report 2021 shows that with the present nationally determined contributions and other firm commitments of countries around the world, we are indeed still on track for a catastrophic global temperature rise of around 2.7 degrees Celsius,” he said. “The era of one-off measures and promises is up and the time for closing this leadership gap must begin in Glasgow.”

He said for most nations it is not clear how the commitments made in their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) will materialise.


NDCs are the submissions by countries that have ratified the Paris Agreement saying what national efforts they are making to reduce emissions and reach the agreement’s long-term temperature goal of limiting warming to well below two degrees Celsius.

“In 2021, as climate impacts intensified around the world, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—the UN body that assesses the science related to climate change— warned we have a 50 per cent chance of surpassing 1.5 degrees Celsius within two decades, there was still hope that COP26 could become a turning point on climate action… however, the new and updated NDCs fall short of the sweeping and immediate cuts to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that are urgently required to reverse this calamity,” said the UNEP report.

The report shows that the new NDCs, combined with other mitigation pledges, put the world on track for a global temperature rise of 2.7 degrees Celsius by end of the century, even if all new unconditional commitments are met. Yet not even previous commitments have been met.

As of September 30, about 120 countries, representing those who emit about 51 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions, had communicated new or updated NDCs. In addition, three countries have announced some form of new climate action for 2030.

To have any chance of limiting global warming to 1.5 degree Celsius, the world has eight years to take an additional 28 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent (GtCO2e) off annual emissions, over and above what is promised in the updated NDCs and other 2030 commitments.

To put this number into perspective, CO2 emissions alone are expected to reach 33 gigatonnes in 2021.

When all other greenhouse gases are taken into account, annual emissions are close to 60 GtCO2e. So, to have a chance of reaching the 1.5 degree Celsius target, we need to almost halve greenhouse gas emissions.

Weak, undelivered promises

Yet, as executive director of UNEP, Inger Andersen, put it on Tuesday, “Climate action so far has been characterised by weak promises, not yet delivered.”

“To be clear, we have eight years to make the plans, put in place the policies, implement them and ultimately deliver the cuts,” said Ms Andersen.

“In 11 years (2010 to 2021) we’ve put in place policies that will lower annual emissions by 11 GtCO2e in 2030 compared to what would have happened without these policies. But we need to make the difference, not a difference. We cannot keep doing the same things and expect a better result,” she added. “The world has to wake up to the imminent peril we face as a species. Nations need to put in place the policies to meet their new commitments, and start implementing them urgently.”

She said net-zero pledges from 49 countries, plus the EU cover half of all greenhouse gas emissions. “Net-zero pledges could make a big difference. These pledges could bring the predicted global warming percentage this century down from 2.7, to 2.2. Still off track but closer. But these pledges remain vague and inconsistent with 2030 targets and that must change.”

Another option highlighted in the report is methane, a powerful and short-lived climate warming gas. Over 30 countries have joined the US- and EU-led effort to cut 30 percent off of methane emissions by 2030. The potential of reduction of methane emissions from fossil fuel, waste and agriculture sectors will contribute significantly to closing the emissions gap and reduce warming in the short term.

According to Ms Andersen, the methane target is a feasible low cost, rapid action one, that provides an interim measure on the road to decarbonisation. “But this does not let the oil and gas industry off the hook.”

Methane emissions are the second largest contributor to global warming. The gas has a global warming potential over 80 times that of carbondioxide over a 20-year horizon; it also has a shorter lifetime in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide – only 12 years, compared to up to hundreds for CO2 – so cuts to methane are projected to limit temperature increase faster than cuts to carbon dioxide.

If implemented, net-zero targets could reduce global warming by about 0.5 degree Celsius relative to projections that only take into account unconditional NDCs and other commitments, thus coming closer to the upper range of the temperature goal of the Paris Agreement. However, many national climate plans delay action until after 2030.

At least 12 G20 members have pledged a net-zero target, but they are still ambiguous. Out of nine G20 member plans assessed in the report, five are on a linear pathway to net-zero.

“It is also essential to deliver financial and technological support to developing nations – so that they can both adapt to the impacts of climate change already here and set out on a low-emissions growth path.”

The report notes that although the Covid-19 pandemic led to a drop in global CO2 emissions in 2020, CO2 and non-CO2 emissions in 2021 are expected to rise again to a level only slightly lower than the record high in 2019.

According to the IPCC, the rate of surface temperature increase has generally been more rapid in Africa than the global average. In fact, it is estimated that these increases could see Africa experience a warming of at least 2ºC by mid-century. Human-induced climate change is the dominant driver. However, Africa is not a significant source of emissions and accounts for only 2–3 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions from energy and industrial sources.

Currently, a small number of high-income economies account for the majority of green spending.

Only 17-19 per cent or $438 billion out of a total $2.28 trillion in recovery spending according to the Global Recovery Observatory of total recovery investments to May 2021 are likely to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Of this spending, almost 90 percent is accounted for by six G20 members and one permanent guest.

Covid-19 spending has been far lower in low-income economies at $ 60 per person than in advanced economies at $11,800 per person.