National climate plans still far off track despite growing risks, says UN

SINGAPORE – Despite ever-increasing risks and damage from extreme weather, national climate plans to cut greenhouse gases are far too weak to prevent a climate catastrophe, the UN climate body said on Friday (Feb 26).

A snapshot assessment of plans submitted to the United Nations by the end of last year shows countries achieving only a 1 per cent reduction of emissions by 2030 compared with 2010 levels – far from the 45 per cent cut scientists say is needed to limit warming to 1.5 deg C.

“This report shows that current levels of climate ambition are very far from putting us on a pathway that will meet our Paris Agreement goals,” Ms Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said in a statement.

Under the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, member nations are required to submit more ambitious national plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions every five years. This “ratcheting-up” mechanism is meant to drive global action to achieve Paris’ key goals of limiting warming to well below 2 deg C and ideally 1.5 deg C above pre-industrial levels.

Global average temperatures have already risen 1.1 deg C and last year tied with 2016 as the warmest on record. Weather events, from floods to storms to droughts and wildfires have also become increasingly more extreme and deadly, adding to the sense of urgency to act on climate change.

The UNFCCC’s assessment raises concern ahead of a major climate summit in Glasgow in November called COP26. The UN has said the summit needs to end with a much more ambitious plan on cutting emissions for this decade and by mid-century, when global carbon emissions need to reach net-zero.

Incoming COP26 president Alok Sharma said: “This report should serve as an urgent call to action and I am asking all countries, particularly major emitters, to submit ambitious 2030 emission reduction targets.”

The UN climate body’s analysis is based on the climate plans of 75 parties, representing about 30 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, submitted by the deadline of end-December last year. The idea of the assessment is to get a preliminary look of global climate ambition ahead of COP26.

Scores of other nations have yet to submit their plans. Among them are major polluters such as the United States and China, which represent just over 30 per cent of mankind’s greenhouse gas emissions. The Biden administration is expected to unveil its updated climate plan in April, while China’s is expected some time after it unveils its 14th Five-Year Plan on social and economic development next month.

Also awaited are plans from India and key forest nation Indonesia, also a top coal exporter, which said last year it would not set a more ambitious emissions reduction target.

“It is shocking that so many countries have not increased their 2030 targets – this can only undermine global momentum toward tackling climate change,” said Dr Bill Hare, chief executive of Climate Analytics, a climate science and policy think tank.

“With the US due to put forward a much stronger target in April, and Japan working to strengthen its target, as we head towards Glasgow, we hope that public and diplomatic pressure on the laggards can create an impetus toward the kind of outcome these governments agreed in Paris,” he told The Straits Times.

He singled out the laggards, which include bigger emitters such as Australia, Russia, Switzerland, South Korea and Brazil. Australia’s climate plan, submitted last December, leaves unchanged the previous 2030 target to cut emissions, which has been widely criticised as far too weak.

The collective lack of ambition could also harm the Paris Agreement.

“It’s worrying because this could undermine the pledge and review or ratchet-up mechanism set out by the Paris Agreement,” said Ms Melissa Low, research fellow at the Energy Studies Institute at the National University of Singapore.

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