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FALSE HOPE: Countries’ Net-Zero Pledges Pay ‘Lip Service to Climate Action’, Analysts Warn

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FALSE HOPE: Countries’ Net-Zero Pledges Pay ‘Lip Service to Climate Action’, Analysts Warn

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This story includes details about the impacts of climate change that may be difficult for some readers. If you are feeling overwhelmed by this crisis situation here is a list of resources on how to cope with fears and feelings about the scope and pace of the climate crisis.

In a withering condemnation of developed nations’ claims to be making headway against the climate crisis, scientists say the United Nations climate conference, COP 26, has “a massive credibility, action, and commitment gap,” after a week of promises and declarations left the world heading to at least 2.4˚C average warming if not more.

The respected Climate Action Tracker team (CAT), delivering its annual global update Tuesday, said the present pursuit of a net-zero society simply pays “lip service to climate action.” It urges countries to come back next year’s UN climate conference, COP 27 in Egypt, with new and stronger targets.

The Climate Action Tracker is an independent scientific analysis which measures government climate action against the globally agreed aim of holding warming well below 2°C, and pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5°C.

Yesterday, the CAT warned that the “good news” of the potential impact of announced net-zero targets was bringing false hope to the reality of the warming resulting from government inaction. The topline results of this year’s update include:

• With all target pledges, including those made here in Glasgow, global greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 will still be around twice as high as those compatible with the 1.5°C limit adopted in the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

• Stalled momentum from leaders and governments on their short-term climate action targets has narrowed the 2030 emissions gap by only 15 to 17% over the last year.

• With 2030 pledges alone—leaving out longer-term targets—global temperature increase will be at 2.4°C in 2100, against the Paris decision that 2°C was the highest permissible figure, and searing evidence throughout this COP on the devastating impact of even 1.0°C warming.

• The projected warming from current policies (policies, not proposals)—what countries are actually doing—is even higher, at 2.7˚C, with only a 0.2˚C improvement over the last year and nearly one degree above the net-zero announcements governments have made.

• Since the April, 2021 climate leaders’ summit convened at the White House by United States President Joe Biden, the CAT’s standard “pledges and targets” temperature estimate has dropped by 0.3°C to 2.1°C. That’s based on all the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) that countries have submitted as voluntary targets under the Paris agreement, and on long-term targets they’ve submitted to the United Nations climate secretariat—including formal net-zero targets submitted by the U.S. and China.

• While the projected warming from all net-zero announcements, if fully implemented—the CAT’s “optimistic” scenario—is down to 1.8˚C by 2100, this estimate is far from positive news, given the quality of the net-zero goals and the massive ambition and action gap in 2030.

• Even this “optimistic” pathway is a long way from the Paris Agreement’s 1.5˚C limit, with peak 21st century warming of 1.9˚C and about a 16% chance of exceeding a warming of 2.4˚C.

“The vast majority of 2030 actions and targets are inconsistent with net-zero goals: there’s a nearly one-degree gap between governments’ current policies and their net-zero goals,” said Bill Hare, CEO of Climate Analytics, a CAT partner organization.

“It’s all very well for leaders to claim they have a net-zero target, but if they have no plans as to how to get there, and their 2030 targets are as low as so many of them are, then frankly, these net-zero targets are just lip service to real climate action,” Hare added. “Glasgow has a serious credibility gap.”

More than 140 governments have announced net-zero goals, covering 90% of global emissions. But in the CAT’s analysis of the 40 countries whose net-zero announcements cover 85% of emissions, only a small number, covering only 6% of global emissions, are rated “acceptable” and have actual plans in place to get there. 

“While the wave of net-zero targets appears like remarkable news, we can’t sit back and relax. In the situation where, even with the new pledges, global emissions in 2030 will still be twice as high as required for 1.5°C, all countries must urgently look at what more they can do,” said Prof. Niklas Höhne, of the NewClimate Institute, the other CAT partner organization.

Given this situation, in the final stages of COP 26, governments need to focus on closing the credibility gap. This can only come from increasing the 2030 mitigation ambition, and closing the finance gap, which is essential for many developing countries to make the big jump needed to reduce their emissions to 1.5°C-ompatible levels. 

“If the massive 2030 gap cannot be narrowed in Glasgow, governments must agree to come back next year, by COP 27, with new and stronger targets. Today’s leaders need to be held to account for this massive 2030 gap. If we wait another five years and only discuss 2035 commitments, the 1.5°C limit may well be lost.” Höhne said.

That includes addressing the coal and gas consumption that the CAT concludes is driving the inaction. “Coal must be out of the power sector by 2030 in the OECD, and globally by 2040, and in spite of political momentum and the clear benefits beyond climate change mitigation, there is still a huge amount of coal in the pipeline,” said Hare.

“The biggest of the coal countries, China, India, Indonesia, and Vietnam, must reduce their coal pipelines, but they cannot switch to gas instead. We are seeing the rise of a gas industry pushing its product as an alternative, still supported by many governments. We cannot let fossil fuels be replaced with more fossil fuels.”

The CAT also found the announcements to reduce methane and deforestation made in Glasgow narrow the emissions gap only slightly, if at all. 

Download the PDF of the CAT briefing here.

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