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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

World’s climate report card says we’re trying, but urgently need improvement


An industrial park in Shanxi Province, in the heart of China’s coal country, on Oct. 22, 2021.

By Brad Plumer


Eight years after world leaders approved a landmark agreement in Paris to fight climate change, countries have made only limited progress in staving off the most dangerous effects of global warming, according to the first official report card on the global climate treaty.


Many of the worst-case climate change scenarios that were much feared in the early 2010s look far less likely today, the report said. The authors partly credit the 2015 Paris Agreement, under which, for the first time, almost every country agreed to submit a voluntary plan to curb in its own planet-warming emissions. Since then, the rise in global greenhouse gases has notably slowed.


Yet those efforts still aren’t enough to avoid calamity, according to the report, which was written by representatives from the United States and South Africa and based on contributions from hundreds of governments, scientists and civil society groups from around the world.


Under the Paris Agreement, countries vowed to limit the rise in average global temperatures to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 Fahrenheit, above preindustrial levels and make a good-faith effort to stay at 1.5 degrees Celsius. Past that level, the dangers from intense flooding, wildfires, drought, heat waves and species extinction could become unmanageable, scientists have said. Earth has already heated up roughly 1.2 degrees Celsius since preindustrial times.


Countries are far from meeting those goals. Current climate pledges would put the world on track for a significantly more hazardous 2.5 degrees Celsius or so of warming by 2100, assuming nations followed through on their plans. In order to keep global warming at safer levels, global emissions would need to plunge roughly 60% by 2035, which would most likely require a much faster expansion of energy sources like wind, solar or nuclear power and a sharp decrease in pollution from fossil fuels like oil, coal and natural gas.


The new report is part of what’s known as the global stocktake. When countries approved the Paris Agreement, they agreed to meet every five years, starting in 2023, to officially assess how the fight against climate change was going and see whether they should ratchet up their efforts.


The report, nearly two years in the making, is meant to serve as the foundation for the next round of United Nations climate negotiations, known as COP28, that will start in late November in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. There, countries will discuss how to respond to the global stocktake and what more they can do.


“I urge governments to carefully study the findings of the report and ultimately understand what it means for them and the ambitious action they must take next,” said Simon Stiell, the U.N. climate head. “The global stocktake is a critical moment for greater ambition and accelerating action.”


The man overseeing this year’s climate negotiations, Sultan al-Jaber, is the head of both the Emirates’ biggest renewable energy company and its national oil company, a dual role that has provoked criticism from many environmentalists, who say he is unlikely to be an impartial mediator.


Al-Jaber has said he wants countries to triple renewable energy capacity by 2030. He also wants nations to agree, for the first time, on a long-term goal of phasing out “unabated” fossil fuels. That phrasing would allow for the continued use of oil, coal or gas if companies can capture and bury the emissions those fuels produce — a technology that has struggled to gain traction because of high costs.


The new global stocktake report says those measures, and many others, are “urgently” needed.


“The United Nations’ polite prose glosses over what is a truly damning report card for global climate efforts,” said Ani Dasgupta, president of the World Resources Institute. “Carbon emissions? Still climbing. Rich countries’ finance commitments? Delinquent. Adaptation support? Lagging woefully behind.”


One perennial sticking point in global climate talks is that developing nations say they can’t afford to shift rapidly away from fossil fuels and adapt to fiercer heat waves and storms without outside help.


Under the Paris deal, wealthy emitters like the United States and Europe vowed to provide $100 billion per year from public and private sources by 2020 for this purpose. But they have yet to fulfill that promise. In 2020, industrialized countries provided $83.3 billion in climate finance. And only a small fraction of that money goes toward adaptation, such as building sea walls or helping farmers cope with drought, which is often the most pressing need.


The report notes that developing countries will ultimately need trillions of dollars to prepare for climate change and calls for wider systemic reforms, such as reforming lending practices at multilateral banks or aiding countries that are saddled with large debt burdens.


“There’s been so much focus on holding developed countries accountable for their $100 billion promise, which is absolutely important,” said Charlene Watson, a senior research associate at the Overseas Development Institute. “But the reality is we’ll need so much more.”


Countries have also made some progress in adapting to climate threats by, for instance, building flood barriers or installing early warning systems for tropical cyclones. But those efforts are often “incremental” and unequally distributed, the report warned. Preparing for future threats, like dwindling freshwater supplies or irreversible ecosystem damage, will require “transformational” changes in climate adaptation.


One obstacle, the report noted, is that it is often difficult to track adaptation efforts or measure how successful they are.


“It’s a lot harder to track progress on adaptation than it is to track progress on finance or cutting emissions,” said Richard Klein of the Stockholm Environment Institute, who added that coming up with global goals for adaptation would be a key challenge for future climate talks.


The big question now, experts said, is how countries will respond to the global stocktake.


“We’ve had lots of reports about lack of progress over the years, but what’s different about this one is that it isn’t a group of scientists or a single U.N. agency saying this,” said Rachel Kyte, a veteran climate diplomat and former dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University. “This is something that all the countries have had a say in.”


“This is like sitting down with your doctor and agreeing that your liver could be better, you really need to be in better shape,” Kyte added. “Now are you going to get off the couch and do something about it, or just sit there and ignore it?”

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