World failing to make crucial climate change advances, report finds

As countries submit new data, UN warns that Earth is on ‘catastrophic’ course for global warming by 2100

Steam comes out of the chimneys of the coal-fired power station Neurath near the Garzweiler open-cast coal mine in Luetzerath, Germany, Monday, Oct. 25, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)
Steam comes out of the chimneys of the coal-fired power station Neurath near the Garzweiler open-cast coal mine in Luetzerath, Germany, Monday, Oct. 25, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

The world is not on track to reach a single one of 40 key targets aimed at reining in global warming, warns a new report on the climate crisis released this week by the Systems Change Lab.

The report sets 40 targets for 2030 and 2050 in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, with goals across the power, transportation, building, agriculture and other industries.

“Of the 40 indicators assessed, none are on track to reach 2030 targets,” said the report’s authors, indicating that change is on track for just eight of the goals but moving too slow, and 17 are also heading in the right direction but at an even slower pace. The remainder are either stagnant or heading in the wrong direction.

Funding climate action programs “must increase nearly 13-fold” in order to meet goals set for 2030, suggested the report.

The 40 goals include increasing the share of renewable electricity, boosting electric vehicle sales, cutting meat consumption, cutting coal usage, reforestation, shrinking food waste and cutting carbon intensity in global steel and cement production.

And according to new data from the UN, the world is still on course toward “catastrophic” warming of 2.7 degrees Celsius by 2100.

Six years ago, nearly every country in the world set targets for reducing its carbon emissions — but the sum total of their pledges fell far short of what was needed to keep the planet from dangerously overheating.

Smoke and steam rise from towers at the coal-fired Urumqi Thermal Power Plant in Urumqi in western China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region on Wednesday, April 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

That first raft of “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs) — many conditioned on financing and technical support — under the 2015 Paris Agreement would have seen Earth heat up three to four degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The treaty called for a cap of “well below” 2 degrees, while a 2018 UN report set 1.5 as the de facto target.

Under the deal’s “ratchet” mechanism, signatories review and renew their emission-cutting plans every five years, submitting a new NDC.

In 2016, China — by far the largest emitter, responsible for more than a quarter of all carbon pollution — promised to reduce its emission intensity by at least 65 percent by 2030. Under that scenario, it planned to reach peak emissions no later than 2030.

In September last year, President Xi Jinping made a surprise announcement at the UN General Assembly: China planned to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060, meaning any remaining carbon pollution will be captured and stored, or offset.

But the country’s new five-year plan does not spell out the steps to reaching this goal, nor has Beijing officially submitted its renewed NDC. In the meantime, China continues to build new coal-fired power plants, the single largest source of carbon pollution.

The second-largest carbon emitter, the US, was one of the driving forces behind the Paris deal, with an initial commitment to cut emissions by 26-28% by 2025, compared with 2005 levels.

Emissions rise from the smokestacks at the Jeffrey Energy Center coal power plant as the suns sets, near Emmett, Kansas, United States, September 18, 2021. (Charlie Riedel/AP)

Once in office, President Joe Biden wasted no time in rejoining the accord after his predecessor Donald Trump’s decision to backtrack on US commitments.

The country’s new NDC calls for lowering greenhouse gas emissions by 50-52% by 2030. This is compatible with a rise of 2°C, but still falls well short of the effort needed to stay below a rise of 1.5°C, according to Climate Action Tracker.

The EU committed in 2015 to reducing its CO₂ emissions by at least 40% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. Member states updated this goal in December, aiming to reduce emissions by “at least 55%” by the end of this decade — a goal also in line with 2°C of global warming.

Britain, which has now left the EU, has a 2050 net-zero target built into law. It announced in December it would seek to reduce emissions by 68% by 2030, compared with 1990 levels, in sync with the 1.5C target.

India is the world’s third-largest polluter, but has a per-capita carbon footprint far lower than the world’s other top emitters. Like China, the country has unveiled plans to reduce its carbon intensity — by up to 35% this decade compared to 2005 levels. It has yet to submit a renewed NDC.

Russia, which did not formally join the Paris deal until in 2019, submitted its first carbon-cutting plan under the Paris deal in 2020. Using 1990 levels as a benchmark, Moscow said it plans to reduce CO₂ emissions by 30% by 2030, a target deemed “critically insufficient” by Climate Action Tracker.

Most recently, Vladimir Putin announced that Russia would aim for carbon neutrality by 2060, but did not provide a roadmap for how the country would get there.

G20 nations, which are holding a summit in Rome over the weekend, represent more than 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Any credible pathway toward global net-zero in 2050 will require slashing carbon emissions by 45% by 2030, according to the UN. But 2019 was a record year for emissions, which are rapidly climbing back to pre-pandemic levels, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

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