National plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions still fall far short of what is needed to avert catastrophic climate change, the UN Environment Programme warns
27 October 2022
National plans to cut carbon emissions leave no credible pathway to limit global warming to 1.5°C, says a UN report warning that progress since last year’s COP26 summit has been “woefully insufficient”.
On the current trajectory, the world is on course for a disastrous 2.6°C temperature rise by the end of the century, according to the Emissions Gap Report from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
The COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, UK, in 2021 ended with a deal that countries would come forward with bolder plans to cut emissions within a year.
Boris Johnson, then the UK’s prime minister, said the agreement was “game-changing” and meant the world was now “undeniably heading in the right direction” in the fight against climate change.
But the UNEP report punctures that optimism. Updated pledges since the summit take less than 1 per cent off projected 2030 greenhouse gas emissions, it says.
“There’s a huge gap between where the current promises are taking us and what we actually need,” says Anne Olhoff at UNEP. “[The report] basically says that not a lot has happened since last year, and if we are really serious about this, that needs to change dramatically and immediately.”
The Emissions Gap Report takes a broad look at all climate promises made by nations, including not just the national climate plans submitted under the UN process, but also domestic policies and long-term targets.
There is some cause for optimism. The projected 2.6°C temperature rise is based on countries meeting most of the targets in their official 2030 climate plans. But under a best-case scenario where nations implement all their climate ambitions and meet longer-term net-zero goals, global temperatures would only rise by 1.8°C by the end of this century.
However, UNEP warns this scenario isn’t “credible” because most countries’ short-term climate plans aren’t ambitious enough to put them on course for net-zero emissions later this century.
China and India, for example, have 2030 plans in place that in which emissions are expected to increase up to the end of the decade, then plummet to net zero in just 30 to 40 years’ time, which is seen as unrealistic.
Even if all 2030 plans are delivered in full, emissions are only set to drop by 10 per cent by 2030, compared with business as usual, not the 45 per cent reduction needed to deliver the 1.5°C target.
“There’s a risk of focusing too far in the future,” says Olhoff. “The net-zero targets are extremely important, but what is equally important is to keep the focus on the short-term action, the immediate action that needs to happen, for the net-zero targets to become feasible and realistic.”
The findings chime with a separate UN assessment released on 26 October, which looked specifically at national climate plans submitted under the Paris Agreement. This report found that current plans submitted to the UN put the world on course for around 2.5°C of warming by the end of the century.
It will be up to world leaders, set to arrive in Egypt next month for the next round of climate talks, to drive more ambition to close the “emissions gap” between current plans and the targets set in the Paris Agreement.
COP26 president Alok Sharma said countries must deliver on the promises made in Glasgow to keep 1.5°C within reach. “These reports show that although we have made some progress – and every fraction of a degree counts – much more is needed urgently,” he said in response to both UN studies.
Piers Forster at the University of Leeds, UK, says countries must do more to strengthen their response to climate change when they meet in Egypt. “The world needs international cooperation more than ever,” he says. “COP27 needs to deliver.”
Sign up to our free Fix the Planet newsletter to get a dose of climate optimism delivered straight to your inbox, every Thursday
More on these topics: