Countries Are Failing to Tackle Climate Change, UN says

Emissions cut commitments by major economies won’t be enough to prevent rampant climate change.

air pollution fog
DuKai photographer / Getty Images

Greenhouse gas emissions are likely to rise by 16% over the next decade, the United Nations' climate change office said in an ominous report that has enraged activists worldwide.

To prevent a climate catastrophe, the world needs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by around 50% by 2030, which scientists say should be enough to limit warming at 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) from pre-industrial levels.

But after analyzing the climate action plans of nearly 200 countries, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) found that instead of lowering emissions, those commitments would actually lead to higher emissions.

“The 16% increase is a huge cause of concern. It is in sharp contrast with the calls by science for rapid, sustained and large-scale emission reductions to prevent the most severe climate consequences and suffering, especially of the most vulnerable, throughout the world,” said Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of U.N. Climate Change. 

The UNFCCC concluded current climate action plans would lead to a temperature rise of about 2.7 degrees Celsius (nearly 5 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century, a severe increase that would pave the way for frequent and extreme weather events that could severely impact food production and human health.

“Today’s @UNFCCC report shows we are on a catastrophic pathway to 2.7°C of global heating. Leaders must change course and deliver on #ClimateAction, or people in all countries will pay a tragic price. No more ignoring science. No more ignoring the demands of people everywhere,” tweeted U.N. Secretary General António Guterres.

To be clear, if they comply with their climate action plans, 113 countries would reduce their emissions by 12% in 2030 compared to 2010, the report found. 

Even though a 12% reduction would not be enough to avoid a climate debacle, countries that have updated their climate action plans, or presented new ones, “are making progress toward the Paris Agreement’s temperature goals” Espinosa said while urging the countries that have yet to present plans to do so before world leaders meet for the U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, in early November.

China, India, and Saudi Arabia are among the countries that have not yet presented new action plans. 

Activists responded with dismay. 

“Governments are letting vested interests call the climate shots, rather than serving the global community. Passing the buck to future generations has got to stop – we are living in the climate emergency now,” said Jennifer Morgan, Executive Director of Greenpeace International.
"The global average temperature will rise 2.7 degrees Celsius by century’s end even if all countries meet their promised emissions cuts. And we're of course far from reaching even these highly insufficient targets. How long will we let this madness go on?” tweeted Greta Thunberg.
“Based on current commitments from countries to reduce emissions, we're still on track for 3⁰C. OMG,” tweeted Alexandria Villaseñor.
“And, remember folks, these are the *pledges*, which Parties are not even meeting,” tweeted Dr. Genevieve Guenther, founder and director of End Climate Silence.

But that wasn’t the only dire climate change report released last week.

According to an analysis by Climate Action Tracker, emissions cut commitments by major economies, including the EU and the U.S., won’t be enough to prevent rampage climate change.

The only country whose climate action is consistent with the Paris Agreement 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) warming limit is Gambia, the report says, while another seven (Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Kenya, Morocco, Nepal, Nigeria, and the U.K.) have presented climate action plans that would lead to “moderate improvements” in emissions.  

Country Ratings Climate Action

Climate Action Tracker

“Domestic targets are, however, only one dimension of the actions needed for Paris compatibility. None of these governments have put forward sufficient international climate finance — which is absolutely essential for ambitious action in those developing countries needing support to reduce emissions — nor do they have sufficient policies in place,” the report noted.

Climate Action Tracker put much of the blame on the pervasiveness of coal in Asia. It noted that China, India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Japan, and South Korea still plan to build coal-fired power plants.

But coal is also making a resurgence elsewhere. Renewables are growing but not fast enough to meet strong demand for electricity—the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that countries are only investing about a third of the money needed to reach zero emissions by 2050—and amid higher natural gas prices, energy companies in the EU and the U.S. are increasingly burning coal to produce power.

“The rapid growth of coal-fired electricity generation is a reminder of coal’s central role in fueling some of the world’s largest economies,” the IEA said in a report released in April.

View Article Sources
  1. "Full NDC Synthesis Report: Some Progress, but Still a Big Concern." United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 2021.

  2. "Global Update: Climate Target Updates Slow as Science Demands Action." Climate Action Tracker, 2021.