Climate

World faces a 2.8-degree warmer future by 2100 if countries continue with current 'action gap,' UN warns

The world, especially richer carbon polluting nations, remains "far behind" and is not doing nearly enough — nor even promising to do enough — to reach any of the global goals limiting future warming, a United Nations report said.

'Global and national climate commitments are falling pitifully short,' says UN secretary-general

A flock of sheep graze in front of a coal-fired power plant and wind turbines at a coal mine near Luetzerath in western Germany on Oct. 16. A new UN report says the world is weaning itself off fossil fuels too slowly to meet any climate change goals. (Martin Meissner/The Associated Press)

The world, especially richer carbon polluting nations, remains "far behind" and is not doing nearly enough — nor even promising to do enough — to reach any of the global goals limiting future warming, a United Nations report said.

That "highly inadequate" inaction means the window is closing, but not quite shut yet, on efforts to keep future warming to just a few more tenths of a degree from now, according to Thursday's Emissions Gap report from the United Nations Environment Programme.

"Global and national climate commitments are falling pitifully short," United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Thursday. "We are headed for a global catastrophe."

The world is weaning itself from fossil fuels too slowly, the report and experts said.

"The report confirms the utterly glacial pace of climate action, despite the looming precipice of climate tipping points we're approaching," said climate scientist Bill Hare, head of Climate Analytics, which also examines what countries are promising and doing about carbon emissions in its own analysis.

'An action gap'

Instead of limiting warming to 1.5 or 2 C above pre-industrial levels, the global goals set by the 2015 Paris Agreement, the way the world is acting now, warming will hit 2.8 degrees by 2100, the UN report said. Countries' concrete pledges would bring that down to 2.6 degrees.

A packed Los Angeles roadway is seen in a file photo taken in April 2022. A United Nations report says the world is not doing enough to reach any of the global goals limiting future warming. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The planet has already warmed 1.1 C since pre-industrial times.

"In all likelihood we will pass by 1.5," UNEP executive director Inger Andersen told The Associated Press in an interview. She didn't say when she thinks that would happen. "We can still do it, but that means 45 per cent emissions reductions" by 2030.

World Meteorological Organization Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said the UN weather agency has calculated that there's a 50 per cent chance that the world will likely hit the 1.5 degree mark temporarily in the next five years and "in the next decade we'd be there on a more permanent basis."

"It's really about understanding that every little digit [tenth of a degree of warming] that we shave off is a lesser catastrophic outlook," Andersen said.

"We're sliding from climate crisis to climate disaster," Andersen said in a Thursday news conference.

The emissions gap is the difference between the amount of carbon pollution being spewed between now and 2030 and the lower levels needed to keep warming to 1.5 or 2 C.

Guterres said "the emissions gap is a by-product of a commitments gap. A promises gap. An action gap."

'Winning too slowly'

Stanford University climate scientist Rob Jackson, who chairs the independent Global Carbon Project, which tracks carbon dioxide emissions around the world but wasn't part of the UN report, said "another decade of fossil emissions at current rates and we'll zip past 1.5 C.... The way things are going, though, we'll zip past 1.5 C, past 2 C and — heaven help us — even 2.5 or 3 C."

Steam is seen wafting from smoke stacks at a coal-fired power plant in Craig, Colo., in November 2021. (Rick Bowmer/The Associated Press)

"We're failing by winning too slowly," Jackson said in an email. "Renewables are booming and cheaper than ever. But COVID stimulus plans and the war in Ukraine have disrupted global energy markets and led some countries [to] revert to coal and other fuels. This can't continue in a safe climate."

In 10 days, yearly international climate negotiations will begin in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, and in the run-up to the United Nations conference, several reports highlight different aspects of the world's battle to curb climate change.

On Wednesday, a different UN agency looked at countries' official emission reduction targets. Thursday's Emissions Gap report looks at what countries are actually doing as well as what they promise to do in the future in various pledges.

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The G20 nations, the richest countries, are responsible for 75 per cent of the heat-trapping pollution, Andersen said, adding "clearly, the more those G20s lean in, the better we will be."

The latest UN report said "G20 members are far behind in delivering" on their promises to reduce emissions.

Taking out Turkey and Russia, current policies by G20 nations fall 2.6 billion tonnes a year short of the 2030 goal, the report said. Both Turkey and Russia's targets for 2030 have higher pollution levels than current policies project, and using their projections would make the G20 emissions gap artificially low, the report said.

"It's critical that China, as well as the U.S. and other G20 countries, actually lead," Andersen said. She hailed the newly passed $375-billion US climate- and inflation-fighting law in the United States as an example of action instead of just promises.

The report said that by 2030 the U.S. law should prevent one billion tonnes of carbon emissions, which is much more than other nations' efforts made this year.

"What we're calling for is an accelerated pace, because there are good things happening out there in a number of countries, but it's just not fast enough and it's not consistent enough," Andersen said.

Overall, to get the emission cuts needed, the world needs to transform to a low-carbon economy, something that needs global investments of $4 trillion to $6 trillion a year, the report said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Seth Borenstein is a journalist with The Associated Press.

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