Stronger Climate Actions Needed This Year

Urgent action is needed if the world is going to have a chance of staving off the worst impacts of climate change. The actions that leaders take this decade will be pivotal in determining whether we have a chance of holding temperature rise to less than 1.5° Celsius (2.7° Fahrenheit), with many decision-makers calling this “the decisive decade”. Recent reports show that when world leaders meet in Glasgow, Scotland for the global climate summit that the world’s biggest emitting countries will need to deliver stronger near-term climate targets to “keep 1.5°C alive.”

Urgent action is needed if the world is going to have a chance of staving off the worst impacts of climate change. The actions that leaders take this decade will be pivotal in determining whether we have a chance of holding temperature rise to less than 1.5° Celsius (2.7° Fahrenheit), with many decision-makers calling this “the decisive decade”. Recent reports show that when world leaders meet in Glasgow, Scotland for the global climate summit that the world’s biggest emitting countries will need to deliver stronger near-term climate targets to “keep 1.5°C alive.”

Several recent reports provide us with a status report of where we stand before world leaders meet for the 26th Conference of the Parties meeting to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26). NRDC and NewClimate Institute released a “Roadmap to a Safer Climate” report in 2019 which showed a series of 24 practical and realistic national and sectoral actions that could significantly cut emissions in 2030 and keep 1.5°C within reach.

And now six additional reports provide additional insights on several key aspects of where we stand at the beginning of this decisive decade. First, Climate Action Tracker’s (CAT) new analysis shows the progress towards 1.5°C and the individual ranking for key countries. Second, the World Resources Institute (WRI) and Climate Analytics (CA) report looks at what it would take in the G20 countries to deliver on 1.5°C. Third, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) “synthesis report documents where the world is headed with the national climate targets that countries have so far committed to as a part of the Paris Agreement—the so-called nationally determined contributions (NDCs). Fourth, the Emissions Gap Report 2021 was released which shows the emissions gap in 2030 to keep on track for a 1.5°C compatible pathway. Fifth, the Production Gap Report 2021 shows the incompatibility of governments current fossil fuel production plans with the amount consistent with a 1.5°C pathway. And lastly, a new report from a consortium of groups – the State of Climate Action 2021 report—shows the key metrics per sector that need to be delivered to keep on track this decade.

Each of these reports have slight differences but there are several key trends that emerge around where things stand at this critical juncture.

Are we on track for 1.5°C? No, but…

If we continue with current policies, the world will likely be heading for a 2.8-2.9°C world.* Countries have announced additional targets, which should be followed with stronger actions in the coming years.

The UNFCCC synthesis report provides the starkest conclusion of where things stand if the current additional targets are delivered. As the report states: “Total global GHG emission level…taking into account implementation of the latest NDCs…is estimated to be around…16.3 per cent above the 2010 level” (essentially no change from their September evaluation). Yet, global emissions need to be on a significant downward trajectory by 2030 to be on track for a 1.5°C aligned pathway (see figure). As a result, the current NDCs will put us on track for a 2.7°C world, with the world reaching 2.6°C if the “conditional pledges” are delivered – the amounts countries have announced they can do with extra assistance.

Credit: Source: UNFCCC, October 2021. Red area is where current 2030 targets take the world; bottom two areas are where we need to be to stay on track for 1.5°C

The other two reports have a bit more optimistic take as they looked at the national level actions in key countries—as these are sometimes more aggressive than their NDC—and the trend after 2030 based upon countries net zero targets as these would imply significantly more aggressive action in subsequent years. Full implementation of the currently announced NDCs would bring us to a temperature increase of 2.4°C. And, full implementation of pledges by G20 countries “not yet formalized in the NDCs or binding net zero targets” or through “conditional targets” would lead to a temperature rise of 2.1-2.2°C.

Before the Paris Agreement we were likely headed for 4°C world. The national policies and targets are getting us closer to 1.5°C but we still aren’t yet on track. Plus, we need countries to deliver on those targets since the policies they have adopted to date put us much closer to the 3°C world—which is a very scary place to live. Aggressive targets and commensurate actions in the real economy are what we need.

Are the major countries doing enough? No, but…

Only 85 countries—accounting for 63 percent of global emissions—have formally announced new NDCs that detail higher ambition than their targets announced in 2015. Some of these G20 countries have committed to significantly strengthened actions, while others (such as Russia, China, and Saudi Arabia) have announced small steps forward, while others still (Brazil, Mexico) have announced new pledges that move them backwards from their Paris commitments.

To be on track for a 1.5°C, we need to cut emissions by an additional 23-28 gigatons carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) in 2030**, compared to the current trajectories—the “NDCs emissions gap”. With the new NDCs that have been announced, Climate Action Tracker estimates that we have closed the emissions gap by only around 4 Gt (see figure).

Credit: Source: Climate Action Tracker, September 2021

Again, targets and actions are critical to putting the world on a safer climate trajectory. So how are we doing on that combined front? Climate Action Tracker released new country analysis and a new scoring system on the “adequacy” of country targets and actions to date. No major emitting country is rated as having “1.5°C Paris Agreement Compatible” targets and actions. And most G20 countries fall into the “insufficient” or “highly Insufficient” rating, with a few in the “critically insufficient” rating (see figure).

Credit: Source: Climate Action Tracker, September 2021

This story—not enough action and concerning signals—is also true when you look at the production of fossil fuels that governments and companies plan to develop. The “Production Gap Report 2021” paints a stark picture as it states: “Governments plan to produce more than twice the amount of fossil fuels in 2030 than would be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C” (see figure).

Credit: Source: SEI, IISD, ODI, E3G, UNEP, Production Gap Report 2021, October 2021

We have had important new climate targets announced by some major countries, but we need other major emitters to step-up with stronger action. We need to ensure that countries deliver on their targets by adopting additional policies and sectoral strategies to drive emissions down faster than current trends indicate.

Are current policies and market trends moving fast enough? Not yet…

Emissions are set to continue rising if additional actions aren’t urgently taken. The UNEP Emissions Gap Report estimates that emissions will rise by 7 percent between 2019 and 2030 if additional actions aren’t delivered. Our current actions and policies will lead to increasing emissions at a time when we need them to be cut roughly in half. We need to significantly strengthen actions and market signals to meet our current targets, let alone the much deeper actions needed to put us on track for 1.5°C. A continuation of current policies, which are insufficient to meet the 2030 pledges, is estimated to limit warming to 2.8°C (range 2.3–3.3°C).

There are mixed signals in the market. More companies are moving away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy, a growing group of financial institutions are ending support for fossil fuels, additional companies and markets are committing to clean-up their supply-chain from deforestation, renewable energy is rapidly outcompeting fossil fuel-based power, and transportation companies are speeding up the introduction of electric vehicles. But is it happening fast enough?

A new report from a consortium of groups established 40 different sectoral indicators to hold temperatures below 1.5°C. They assessed progress against those indicators and concluded: that none of the indicators are on track to reach 2030 targets, eight indicators are seeing change in the the right direction at a “promising but insufficient speed”, seventeen are headed “in the right direction but well below the required pace”, progress has “stagnated” for three, and three are “heading in the wrong direction entirely”.

Can we get on track for 1.5°C? Yes, if…

We clearly need more action this decade if we are going to have a shot of keeping 1.5°C in reach. We won’t leave COP26 able to declare victory on 1.5°C—headlines coming out of the summit won’t read “1.5°C secured”. But we can either have a very steep hill to climb or moderate climb. The answer will depend on several factors.

  • Stronger climate targets by other major emitters. Countries that account for more than 60 percent of the world’s emissions have announced significantly stronger targets for 2030. These current targets put us on a 2.1-2.7°C trajectory, which will lead to severe impacts around the world. Will other countries step-up with bolder action and help their own country and the most vulnerable avoid the worst impacts of climate change? 
  • Clear signs that domestic actions are moving towards delivering upon targets. National level climate action currently on the books will put us on a 2.8-2.9°C trajectory and the planned production of fossils fuels by countries is more than double what the world can handle to keep temperatures below 1.5°C. We need even bolder policies and investments to deliver on country targets so that the atmosphere sees the impact of their pledges. Will we see accelerated domestic actions in the coming months by the world’s largest emitters?
  • Delivery of key sectoral strategies. National level targets and policies are only a part of the story since the market, investors, and sub-national actors have a critical role to play. We are witnessing a growing groundswell of action from these entities, but we will have to witness a step-change in the coming months and year. Will we see bolder action by major banks, investors, companies, states/provinces, and cities to show that the “real economy” is in fact on a steeper emissions decline than countries have announced to date?
  • Mobilization of adequate climate finance to unleash the full potential of emissions reductions. Developed countries are not yet delivering on their pledge to mobilize $100 billion by 2020 to help developing countries reduce emissions and address the impacts of climate change, likely only meeting the target in 2023. This is an important part of the finance puzzle, but only one component as we will need to mobilize innovative financial tools to steer the trillions towards the zero-carbon and climate resilient future we need. Will major banks, investors, government finance institutions, and the private sector unleash a wave of investments away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy, energy efficiency, storage, less deforestation, and other climate-smart investments?

The seedlings of bolder climate action have appeared in recent years, but they will have to quickly grow into a (carbon-storing) tree if we are going to have a chance of keeping 1.5°C alive this decade.

* With “currently implemented policies” we are headed for a temperature rise of 2.9°C in 2100, according to Climate Action Tracker, whereas the UNEP Gap report puts it at 2.8°C in 2100.

** The WRI and CA report use a 2030 “emissions gap” of 29 GtCO2e using the reference scenario based upon the “NDCs and long-term targets [G20 countries] had communicated to the UNFCCC as of December 2019 (CAT 2019)”. Climate Action Tracker has an emissions gap in 2030 of 23-27 GtCO2e (based upon their September 2020 update), which includes the pledges and targets prior to September 2020. The UNEP Gap Report puts this gap at 25-28 GtCO2e based upon the conditional and unconditional NDCs.

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