The global scientific consensus is clear: emissions of gases that warm the planet must be cut by almost half by 2030 so that the world can ward off the worst climate catastrophes.
The global political response so far has been overwhelming.
New climate targets submitted by countries to the United Nations would reduce emissions by less than 1 percent. This emerges from the latest balance sheet published by the world organization on Friday.
The head of the United Nations Climate Change Agency, Patricia Espinosa, said the figures compiled by her office showed that “current climate ambitions are far from getting us on a path that meets our Paris Agreement goals”.
The numbers provide a reality check on the many promises made by world capitals and corporate boardrooms that leaders will take climate change seriously.
The United Nations Secretary General António Guterres called the report “a red warning”.
The balance was all the worse when less than half of all countries submitted new goals to the United Nations. The Paris Climate Agreement, which aims to limit a rise in global temperatures, had asked them to do so by the end of 2020.
Still missing from the ledger is the United States, which has emitted more greenhouse gases than any other country in history. It rejoined the Paris Agreement last week after former President Donald J. Trump withdrew. It has not yet presented its targets for 2030 and is under pressure from climate officials to reduce emissions by at least 50 percent compared to 2005.
Likewise, China, which currently causes the largest share of emissions, still has to submit new targets for 2030 to the United Nations. Its president, Xi Jinping, said in December that China would produce more electricity from renewable sources (25 percent), grow more forests (six billion cubic meters), and reduce its carbon intensity by over 65 percent, which means that this is China’s economy is growing , its carbon emissions would grow more slowly than before.
Mr Xi said China will be carbon neutral by 2060, which means it will remove from the atmosphere the CO2 emissions used to warm the planet equal to what it is still producing at that time.
Biden’s government has announced that it will target net zero emissions by 2050, but has yet to detail how it will get there.
All eyes are on an international climate summit that the White House will host on April 22nd. The United States is expected to announce its 2030 climate targets by then, and China may also make its own announcement.
The diplomacy will culminate in the next round of United Nations climate negotiations, due to take place in Glasgow in November.
Some of the largest emitter countries – including Australia, Brazil and Russia – have tabled new plans for 2030 without increasing their ambitions. Mexico lowered its climate targets, which the Defense Council on Natural Resources called a signal that “Mexico is effectively pulling back from its previous leadership on climate and clean energy.”
In contrast, 36 countries – including the UK, Chile, Kenya, Nepal and the 27 countries of the European Union – have raised their climate targets.
The Paris Agreement is designed in such a way that the United Nations can neither dictate nor enforce a country’s climate goals or so-called nationally determined contributions. Each country is expected to set its own, report regularly to the world on its progress, and set new goals every five years. Diplomatic peer pressure is supposed to make every country be more ambitious.
The ultimate goal is to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to 1990. Any further warming, according to scientists in extensive studies, would mean the risk of widening forest fires and droughts, growing uncertainty about food and water, and flooding of coastal cities and small islands.
The Alliance of Small Island States, a group of countries most at risk from climate change, gave a searing response to the report on Friday.
“This report confirms the shocking lack of urgency and real action,” said Aubrey Webson, diplomat from Antigua and Barbuda and chairman of the alliance, in a statement. “We are flirting dangerously with the 1.5 degrees Celsius warming limit that the world has agreed we have to stay.”