Governments urged to end ’empty pledges’ on climate

By on 06/04/2022 | Updated on 06/04/2022
Aerial photograph of flooding in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Floods will become more frequent and severe as climate change worsens. Photo courtesy EC/ECHO/EEAS/EU Delegation BiH via Flickr

The UN has urged governments to stop the “litany of broken climate promises” and act immediately to slash greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to stop climate change spiralling out of control.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN body responsible for assessing the science related to climate change, yesterday released the third in a series of major reports, this one detailing current GHG emissions trends and the actions that can slow or stop them. Previous reports covered the physical science, and the changes needed to adapt.

The latest report references 59,000 scientific papers, and was approved by 278 authors. The summary for policymakers was agreed by officials from every country in a line-by-line process lasting two weeks.

GHGs are at their highest point in history, and still rising, scientists warned. They must peak before 2025 and nearly halve by 2030 in order to meet the target to keep warming within 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, agreed by governments in the 2015 Paris Agreement, the scientists said.

Current national emissions reduction plans will see temperatures rise by 3.2°C by 2100. Such increases are projected to cause devastation from hurricanes, floods and wildfires, food and water shortages and mass extinctions of plants and animals.  

“It’s now or never, if we want to limit global warming to 1.5°C,” said Jim Skea, co-chair of the working group that produced the report, and professor of sustainable energy at Imperial College London. “Without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, it will be impossible.”

‘A file of shame’

At least 18 countries had sustained GHG emission reductions for longer than ten years through energy efficiency and decarbonisation of energy supply, some by a third or more since peaking, and some have achieved several years of consecutive reduction rates of around 4% a year, comparable to limiting warming to 2°C or lower. However, these reductions have only partly offset global emissions growth, the scientists found.

Similarly, emissions have increased since 2010 across all major sectors globally since 2010. Rising global activity in industry, energy supply, transport, agriculture and buildings had wiped out savings due to reduced carbon intensity of energy.

Despite reductions being achieved in energy production, these savings have been overtaken by emissions increases from rising global activity levels in industry, energy supply, transport, agriculture and buildings, the IPCC said.

UN secretary general Antonio Guterres said: “This report is a litany of broken climate promises, a file of shame, cataloguing the empty pledges that put us firmly on track towards an unliveable world.”

Some governments and businesses are saying one thing, and doing another, he said. “Simply put, they are lying, and the results will be catastrophic,” he added.

Still possible to solve the crisis

However, the scientists were clear that the world has the technology and the know-how to solve the crisis, as long as more ambitious action is taken immediately. Decarbonisation will require further increases in renewable energy – the costs of which had fallen up to 85% since 2010, faster than anyone had predicted, they said.

There must be no further investment in fossil fuel infrastructure, while the use of coal, oil and gas (without carbon capture and storage technology) needs to be cut by 100%, 60% and 70% respectively.

The report identified several quick policy wins including electrification of urban systems, greening in cities, energy efficiency, demand side management, improved forest and crop/grassland management, and reduced food waste and loss. These are all supported by the public, technically viable and increasingly cost-effective, they said.

Many policies and regulations implemented globally had been relatively effective. Without these, emissions would be 3-10% higher, the scientists estimated.

In order to scale up action to the levels required, investment needs to increase three to six-fold by 2030 to limit warming, the report said, adding that there is sufficient global capital and liquidity to close this gap. However, boosting investment relies on clear signalling from governments, including a stronger alignment of public sector finance and policy to reduce uncertainty for the private sector, they said.

About Catherine Early

Catherine is a journalist and editor specialising in government policy and regulation. She writes predominantly about environmental issues and has held permanent roles at the Environmentalist (now known as Transform), the ENDS Report, Planning magazine and Windpower Monthly, and has also written for the Guardian, the Ecologist and China Dialogue. She was a finalist in the Guardian’s International Development Journalism competition 2009, and was part of the team that won PPA Business Magazine of the Year 2011 for Windpower Monthly. She also won an outstanding content award at Haymarket Media Group’s employee awards for data-led stories in Planning magazine. She holds a 2:1 honours degree in English language and literature from Birmingham University.

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