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COP26: New commitments fail to meet Paris Agreement

New and updated climate commitments fall far short of what is needed to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, leaving the world on track for a global temperature rise of at least 2.7°C this century, according to the UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) latest Emissions Gap Report 2021: The Heat Is On.

The Heat is On cover The report, now in its twelfth year, finds that updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) – and other commitments made for 2030 but not yet submitted in an updated NDC – only take an additional 7.5 per cent off predicted annual greenhouse gas emissions in 2030, compared to the previous round of commitments. Reductions of 30 per cent are needed to stay on the least-cost pathway for 2°C and 55 per cent for 1.5°C.

Released ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), the latest round of climate talks taking place in Glasgow, the report finds that net-zero pledges could make a big difference. If fully implemented, these pledges could bring the predicted global temperature rise to 2.2°C, providing hope that further action could still head off the most-catastrophic impacts of climate change. However, net- zero pledges are still vague, incomplete in many cases, and inconsistent with most 2030 NDCs.

“The emissions gap is the result of a leadership gap,” the UN Secretary-General António Guterres told a press conference. “But leaders can still make this a turning point to a greener future instead of a tipping point to climate catastrophe. The era of half measures and hollow promises must end. The time for closing the leadership gap must begin in Glasgow.”

As of 30 September 2021, 120 countries, representing just over half of global greenhouse gas emissions, had communicated new or updated NDCs. In addition, three G20 members have announced other new mitigation pledges for 2030.

To have a chance of limiting global warming to 1.5°C we need to almost halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

Fossil fuel industries, Patrick Hendry, via Unsplash

Zeroing in on net-zero

Net-zero pledges – and their effective execution – could make a big difference, the authors find, but current plans are vague and not reflected in NDCs. A total of 49 countries plus the EU have pledged a net-zero target. This covers over half of global domestic greenhouse gas emissions, over half of GDP and a third of the global population. Eleven targets are enshrined in law, covering 12 per cent of global emissions.

Smoke from industrial chimney, Chris Leboutillier, via unsplash If made robust and implemented fully, net-zero targets could shave an extra 0.5°C off global warming, bringing the predicted temperature rise down to 2.2°C. However, many of the national climate plans delay action until after 2030, raising doubts over whether net-zero pledges can be delivered. Twelve G20 members have pledged a net-zero target, but they are still highly ambiguous. Action also needs to be frontloaded to make it in line with 2030 goals.

“Climate change is no longer a future problem. It is a now problem,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP. “To stand a chance of limiting global warming to 1.5°C, we have eight years to almost halve greenhouse gas emissions: eight years to make the plans, put in place the policies, implement them and ultimately deliver the cuts. The clock is ticking loudly.”

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