With less than one week before COP26, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said, “we are still on track for climate catastrophe“.

‘Vague’ net zero promises not enough: planet still on track for catastrophic heating

Tuesday’s new Emissions Gap Report shows that updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) – the efforts by each country to reduce national emissions, as well as other commitments made for 2030 but not yet officially submitted – would only lead to an additional 7.5 per cent reduction in annual greenhouse emissions in 2030, compared to previous commitments.

This is not enough. According to the agency, the world needs a 55 per cent reduction to limit global temperature increase below 1.5°C, the capstone defined by scientists as the less risky scenery for our planet and humanity’s future.

“Less than one week before COP26 in Glasgow, we are still on track for climate catastrophe”, said UN Secretary-General António Guterres during a press conference introducing the new assessment.

“As the title of this year’s report puts it: ‘The heat is on’. And as the contents of the report show — the leadership we need is off. Far off”, he warned.

The report finds that net zero pledges, if fully implemented, could make a big difference and bring down 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, so far these promises are “vague” and inconsistent with most 2030 national commitments, UN Environment Programme (UNEP) warns.

A total of 49 countries plus the European Union have pledged a net zero target. This covers over half of global domestic greenhouse gas emissions, over half of global GDP and a third of the global population. Eleven targets are enshrined in law, covering 12 per cent of global emissions.

Yet, many NDCs delay action until after 2030, raising doubts over whether net-zero pledges can be delivered, the report says.

Moreover, although twelve G20 members have pledged a net zero target, ambiguity still surrounds the means of reaching that goal, says the report.

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 within months”, warned Inger Andersen, UNEP’s Executive Director in the foreword.

“They need to make their net zero pledges more concrete, ensuring these commitments are included in NDCs, and action brought forward. They then need to get the policies in place to back this raised ambition and, again, start implementing them urgently”, she added.

The clock is ticking

The report is clear: to have a chance of reaching the 1.5°C target, the world needs to almost halve greenhouse gas emissions in the next eight years. This means removing an additional 28 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent from annual emissions, over and above what is promised in the updated NDCs and other 2030 commitments.

According to the agency, post-pandemic emissions, after lowering initially, have bounced back and are now raising atmospheric concentrations of CO2, higher than at any time in the last two million years.

“The emissions gap is the result of a leadership gap 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”, urged UN chief António Guterres.

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