United Nations Warns of ‘Catastrophic Pathway’ With Current Climate Pledges

United Nations Warns of ‘Catastrophic Pathway’ With Current Climate Pledges

Even if all countries meet the emissions promises they’ve made to address climate change, the global average temperature is poised to rise 2.7 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, a level considered “catastrophic” in a new report from the United Nations climate agency released Friday.

That level of warming is likely to worsen the kinds of extreme wildfires, droughts and floods witnessed in recent months and years, increase the frequency of deadly heat waves around the world, and threaten coastal cities with rising sea levels.

The United Nations Secretary General António Guterres called it a “catastrophic pathway.” The results represent a country-by-country tally of climate pledges made so far under the Paris Agreement, which was signed in 2015 and designed to avert the worst consequences of global warming.

The report was released ahead of the annual gathering of presidents and prime ministers for the United Nations General Assembly next week, where climate change is likely to be one of the key global issues, and on the day President Joseph R. Biden Jr. gathered several world leaders for a virtual meeting designed to nudge countries to make even more ambitious climate pledges.

Perhaps most starkly, the report displayed the large gap between what the scientific consensus urges world leaders to do and what they have been willing to do so far. Emissions of planet-warming gases are poised to grow by 16 percent during this decade compared with 2010 levels even though the latest scientific research indicates that they need to decrease by at least a quarter by 2030 to avert the worst impacts of global warming.

“Governments are letting vested interests call the climate shots, rather than serving the global community,” Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International, said in a statement.

Altogether, nearly 200 countries in the world have made voluntary pledges to reduce or slow down emissions of planet warming gases in the years since the Paris agreement was signed. Some countries have since raised their pledges as outlined under the terms of the agreement, including some of the world’s biggest emitters, like the United States, Britain and the European Union.

But still missing are new pledges from China, which currently produces the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions, as well as Saudi Arabia and India, both large economies with a significant climate footprint.

All those pledges, taken together, are far short of what’s needed to limit global temperature rise to levels that would avert the worst impacts of warming, the report confirms. When it was reached in 2015, the Paris Agreement set a target of limiting average temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius. Since then, because of advances in research, the scientific consensus is that the rise needs to be limited to 1.5 degrees; beyond that threshold, there is a far greater likelihood of devastating consequences, like widespread crop failures and polar ice collapse.

The timing of the synthesis report, as it’s called, is as important as its content. The next round of international climate talks, scheduled to take place in Glasgow, are barely six weeks away and there is still uncertainty around who can attend considering travel restrictions to limit the spread of the coronavirus. It is unclear if some of the world’s biggest economies, including China, Russia, India, and Brazil, will announce new climate pledges.

On Monday, Mr. Guterres is scheduled to host another meeting, also aimed at encouraging all countries to ratchet up their climate pledges and encouraging rich countries to keep their promise to help poorer countries deal with the impacts of climate change.

A separate analysis released this week, by the Washington-based World Resources Institute, found that actions by the world’s 20 largest economies are key to slowing down global climate change. The 20 economies contribute 75 percent of global emissions.

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