The world is squandering the opportunity to “build back better” from the Covid-19 pandemic, and faces disastrous temperature rises of at least 2.7C if countries fail to strengthen their climate pledges, according to a report from the UN.
Tuesday’s publication warns that countries’ current pledges would reduce carbon by only about 7.5% by 2030, far less than the 45% cut scientists say is needed to limit global temperature rises to 1.5C, the aim of the Cop26 summit that opens in Glasgow this Sunday.
António Guterres, the UN secretary-general, described the findings as a “thundering wake up call” to world leaders, while experts called for drastic action against fossil fuel companies.
Although more than 100 countries have promised to reach net zero emissions around mid-century, this would not be enough to stave off climate disaster, according to the UN emissions report, which examines the shortfall between countries’ intentions and actions needed on the climate. Many of the net zero pledges were found to be vague, and unless accompanied by stringent cuts in emissions this decade would allow global heating of a potentially catastrophic extent.
Guterres said: “The heat is on, and as the contents of this report show, the leadership we need is off. Far off. Countries are squandering a massive opportunity to invest Covid-19 fiscal and recovery resources in sustainable, cost-saving, planet-saving ways. As world leaders prepare for Cop26, this report is another thundering wake-up call. How many do we need?”
Inger Andersen, the executive director of the UN Environment Programme (Unep) said: “Climate change is no longer a future problem. It is a now problem. To stand a chance of limiting global warming to 1.5C, we have eight years to almost halve greenhouse gas emissions: eight years to make the plans, put in place the policies, implement them and ultimately deliver the cuts. The clock is ticking loudly.”
Emissions fell by about 5.4% last year during Covid lockdowns, the report found, but only about a fifth of the spending on economic recovery was geared to efforts that would cut carbon. This failure to “build back better” despite promises by governments around the world cast doubt on the world’s willingness to make the economic shift necessary to tackle the climate crisis, the UN said.
In the run-up to Cop26, countries were supposed to submit national plans on emissions cuts – called nationally determined contributions (NDCs) – for the next decade, a requirement under the 2015 Paris climate agreement.
But the Unep report found only half of countries had submitted new NDCs, and several other governments – including Russia, Brazil, Australia and Mexico – had presented weak plans that were no improvement on their 2015 Paris pledges.
The emissions gap report also highlighted methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that arises from animal husbandry, natural gas extraction and waste. The US, the EU and more than 20 other countries have signed a pledge to reduce methane globally by 30% this decade.
Unep said methane was the second biggest contributor to temperature rises, after carbon, and that about 20% of annual methane emissions could be cut at little or no cost, for instance through better management of natural gas drilling.