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We are nowhere near keeping warming below 1.5°C despite climate plans

A demonstration in Paris, France, during the 2015 climate negotiations

Thibault Camus/AP/Shutterstock

The world is wildly off track meeting the Paris Agreement goal of holding temperature rises to 1.5°C, despite a recent series of more ambitious national climate plans by the European Union, the UK and other countries, a United Nations assessment has found.

While new carbon-cutting proposals will bend the curve of global emissions, they are still nowhere near the cuts required to stave off the devastating consequences of breaching the 1.5°C threshold.

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A UN analysis of plans from 74 countries, accounting for almost a third of global emissions, found they would reduce those nations’ emissions by 0.5 per cent by 2030, compared with 2010 levels. However, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said that global emissions must fall by about 45 per cent by 2030 to stand a chance of staying below 1.5°C.

“With everything countries have put on the table, emissions would be stable as opposed to cut in half. That’s a huge gap. All countries need to go back and see if they can do more,” says Niklas Höhne at the non-profit Climate Action Tracker.

“The orders of magnitude are completely wrong. It’s a super small change so far. If we continue along this path, then I think 1.5°C is no longer reachable by 2030,” he says.

In a statement, Patricia Espinosa at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which conducted the analysis, said the pledges to date leave the world “very far” from a path to the Paris goals. She also called on countries that have already submitted a new plan to come up with more ambitious ones.

The UN assessment, published on 26 February, paints a bleak picture of the world’s prospects for stopping dangerous levels of warming. Under the Paris accord in 2015, all countries were expected to “ratchet up” their emissions plans in 2020 with new ones, but in many cases that hasn’t happened. Several countries, including Australia, Japan and South Korea, submitted new plans with no extra ambitions than in 2015.

There is cause to think that the 1.5°C limit isn’t entirely out of reach yet, given the report only covers countries representing 30 per cent of global emissions. Three of the world’s biggest emitters – China, the US and India – haven’t yet submitted new national plans for 2030. The US has said it will do so in the next two months, and Höhne says the other two may do this ahead of a US climate summit on 22 April. “The US will make a major contribution [to closing the gap],” says Höhne.

Another reason for optimism is the surge of mid-century net-zero targets announced by countries last year, including South Korea and China, which may spur more ambitious short-term goals too. “The wave of net-zero targets is a game changer because it changes everyone’s thinking,” says Höhne. A further UN report is due in October, ahead of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, UK, a month later.

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