Global climate change report card, explained

Global climate change report card, explained

Almost all the countries of the world committed to save the climate change in 2015. This week, the United Nations released its first report card for this goal and found that the world is going backwards as time goes on.

Under the 2015 Paris climate agreement, countries have agreed to do what they can to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Their initial proposals weren’t nearly enough, so the deal created a mechanism called global stocktaking to keep everyone accountable.

Unlike other UN climate change reports that are designed to be detailed and shy away from policy recommendations, the stock count is clearly designed to encourage countries to take action. It is a sobering review of progress, and reveals how far countries need to go in their future emissions commitments when they come to the negotiating table at COP28, to be held in the United Arab Emirates this December.

The report says: “The Paris Agreement has made progress on global climate, but “more is now needed in all sectors.”

The task ahead is enormous: According to the report, global emissions must be cut by 43 percent by 2030 to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, one of the main goals of the Paris agreement. But the world has already warmed about 1.2 degrees so far above the industrial average and is on track to exceed that threshold in the next few years. So when speakers meet again at the next climate summit, stock calculations will shape the discussion.

“It carries a lot of weight,” said European Climate Foundation CEO Laurence Tubiana, who helped negotiate the Paris agreement. “I [stocktake] it looks back, but more importantly sets the direction for the next phase of climate policymaking.”

Among its recommendations, the report unapologetically calls for the “elimination of all fossil fuels” and the “total decarbonisation of all sectors of the economy.”

But in a world facing economic chaos, energy shocks, and relentless opposition from big polluters, there are open questions about whether leaders will heed the message at all, and what they will do about it.

Coal, oil, and natural gas must go

Stock calculations strongly suggest that there can be no new fossil fuel base in a world committed to keeping temperatures moderate, including ending the existing coal industry before 2050.

Correct language here is important. In previous climate conferences, countries have been fighting over every word around fossil fuels, whether they should call it the “exit phase” or a lower phrase like “energy transition.” The latter leaves room for new fossil fuels without looking like governments are going back on their word.

But the calculation of the stock, which will inform the political process from here on, is consistent with the results of other world organizations that no new fossil base should be built in a world compatible with 1.5 degrees.

There is some ambiguity in what “non-degradation” means, however, and it could be a contentious topic at the next COP. The language leaves room, Tubiana explained, for fossil fuels to rely on technologies like carbon capture and storage. “In 2050 we will still have fossil fuels in the pipeline, the question is how much,” said Tubiana.

Another major obstacle to switching to fossil fuels is the trillions of dollars in subsidies that governments pour into the industry each year. A recent analysis from the International Monetary Fund found that these subsidies have only grown; they rose to $7 billion last year, $2 trillion more than in 2021.

“The removal of fossil fuel subsidies is a key process to address economic barriers that can perpetuate the inertia of change and prevent cheaper, low-carbon alternatives from being adopted at scale,” says the report.

Stock counts also emphasize the need to address emissions across the board completely the economy. Governments cannot ignore the role of sectors such as industry, which contributes 25 percent of global emissions, and transport, which contributes 15 percent.

Reducing these emissions requires targeting demand and supply in these sectors. For example, in transport, regulations and incentives will help to eliminate the internal combustion engine and push manufacturers to offer electric vehicles on a large scale, but governments should consider reducing the demand for private vehicles entirely by using strategies such as public transport. This extends to sectors such as international shipping and aviation, both areas that are difficult to decarbonize and have often been neglected in international climate talks.

The stocktake is clear that the short term, incremental changes are over: We need to think in terms of changing processes, and the scope of policies to make deep releases. David Waskow, director of the World Resources Institute’s International Climate Initiative said: “If you’re rowing and you can turn your oar faster and faster, but if it’s not going deep enough, you’re not going to get anywhere. “We need to think about pace and speed, of course, but we need depth.”

Everyone is doing something, but everyone needs to do more

The test now is for countries to make the “rapid and deep” greenhouse gas reductions they say are needed, providing additional funding and deep emissions reductions in the next round of pledges in 2025. But countries face other challenges as well, and that will shape what they bring to the table at COP28.

Shocks in food and energy prices, and rising prices, may mean there is less money to invest in clean energy. The big fossil fuel companies are also trying to influence the debate and maintain their market share.

Currently, many countries are still struggling to meet their promises. The US, for example, has set a goal of reducing carbon pollution by 50 percent from 2005 levels by 2030 while donating $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund. But it is struggling to meet both goals, even after the historic climate legislation was passed last year. Some countries have even seen gasoline emissions rise.

Therefore creating the political will to make this drastic change will be a huge challenge. But at the same time, clean energy is more affordable than ever and the stock take says that a shift away from fossil fuels is within our reach. In many parts of the world, wind and solar power are the cheapest new energy sources, sometimes outstripping existing fossil fuel sources. “There are now sufficient low-cost opportunities to address the 2030 emissions gap,” the report says. The challenges are purely political obstacles.

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