UN Secretary-General António Guterres welcomed the return of the United States to the Paris Agreement on climate change amid grave concerns about the acute lack of progress in slowing global warming.
“Today is a day of hope, as the United States officially rejoins the Paris Agreement. This is good news for the United States — and for the world,” the Secretary-General said.
Reached in December 2015, the Paris Agreement aims to keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.
In 2017, former US President Donald Trump provoked the consternation of the international community by announcing the withdraw of the United States, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHG), from the Paris Agreement. Following his inauguration, President Joe Biden immediately reversed his predecessor’s decision. Global relief was palpable.
According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the world is heading towards a temperature increase of 3 to 5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century should current trajectory of carbon dioxide emissions continue.
Most countries are far from meeting their commitments, as noted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in a report published in December 2020. According to the UNEP report “global GHG emissions continued to grow for the third consecutive year in 2019, reaching a record,” and only 9 of the 16 members of the G20, which account for nearly 80% of global emissions, are on track to meet their 2020 targets.
According to UNEP, “The commitments made under the Paris Accord, known as the Determined National Contribution, are woefully inadequate. This UN agency has called on governments to triple their GHG emission reduction commitments to keep the rise in temperatures below 2 degrees. These commitments would have to be multiplied by 5 to limit the rise to 1.5 degrees.”
“The Paris Agreement is an historic achievement. But the commitments made so far are not enough. And even those commitments are not being met,” Guterres said Friday.
The Secretary-General has intensified his efforts to persuade governments around the globe to increase their ambition and action to fight climate change before it is too late.
In his speech at an event with John Kerry, US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate Change, the Secretary-General outlined three key objectives for 2021; creating a truly global coalition for net emissions; exponential progress on reducing emissions and action now.
He also called for phasing out, supporting a just transition, a cut in investments in fossil fuel projects, a shift in the burden from income to carbon and from consumers to polluters. He said he expected countries to propose more ambitious, concrete and credible Nationally Determined Contributions before COP26 in Glasgow in November. In addition, he emphasized the need for countries to step up on their finance commitments.
In Europe, progress is noticeable. The European Union, the world’s third largest emitter of GHGs, has revised its target and pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030, compared to 40% previously.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic may lead to a small drop in carbon dioxide emissions in 2020, the UN warns that this decrease would only have a short-term reduction in global emissions.
With global figures in the past weeks indicating a drop in new cases of COVID-19, countries are increasingly looking toward recovering from the economic downturn resulting from the pandemic.
The Secretary-General noted that the recovery from the pandemic is an opportunity to rebuild stronger and better.
“To do that, we must invest in a green economy that will help to heal the planet and its people, and create well-paid, stable jobs to ensure more equitable and sustainable prosperity,” he said. “Now is the time to implement transformative change.”