COP28 SOS: Nations Are Only Taking ‘Baby Steps’ To Avert Climate Crisis
Steam rises from Africa’s first geothermal power plant, which generates electricity from heat in the depths of the earth. Many more such renewable energy projects are necessary, says a new UN report on countries’ climate commitments.

With a fortnight to go before the start of the annual global climate conference, COP28, countries have – by their own admission – made insufficient progress in reducing carbon emissions.

This is according to a report on countries’ nationally determined contributions (NDCs) or goals they’ve set for themselves, released this week by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change – now being referred to as UN Climate Change. 

A second UN Climate Change report on long-term low-emission targets, also released this week, is slightly more optimistic – saying that by 2050 CO2 emissions could be reduced by two-thirds in comparison to 2019 – but only if countries meet their climate commitments.

Simon Stiell, Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change, said that governments are taking “baby steps” to avert the climate crisis. But they need bolder action to get the world on track to limit global warming to 1.5° C by the end of this century. 

To meet the 2030 goal for slashing climate emissions so as to stick to the Paris Agreement target of 1.5° C , the world needs to cut emissions of carbon dioxide or its equivalent by 43% of the 2019 levels, he said in a press statement. 

But if countries implement their current climate action promises, including conditional ones, the report calculates there will only be a 5.3% reduction in emissions. If the conditional commitments aren’t met, emissions could instead rise by 1.4%.

“COP28 must be a clear turning point. Governments must not only agree on what stronger climate actions will be taken but also start showing exactly how to deliver them,” said Stiell in a media release.

Almost stagnant climate action                           

Oil fields in Bakersfield, California – the USA, Canada, Australia and Norway account for 51% of planned new oil and gas extraction by 2050. COP host UAE is bossting oil production by 1 million barrels per day by 2027.

Even when incorporating the latest commitments made by countries by the end of September, and just ahead COP28, the aggregate effect of the NDCs is “almost stagnant” over the last year.

“A significant increase in the level of ambition of climate action” is needed by countries Stiell said.  

COP28 President Designate, the United Arab Emirates (UAE)’s Sultan Al Jaber, says, “There is simply no time left for delays”, adding that the NDCs report “underscores the need for us to act with greater ambition and urgency to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement”. 

But UAE, COP28’s host, plans to boost its oil production by one million barrels per day by 2027 and triple its natural gas production over the next five years by its national oil company, ADNOC, and Al Jaber is the oil company’s president and CEO.

It’s not just the UAE. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reported last week that governments are planning to produce 110% more fossil fuels in 2030 than compatible with the 1.5°C limit. 

The US,  Canada, Australia, Norway and the United Kingdom account for 51% of planned new oil and gas extraction by 2050. 

Meanwhile, India, Saudi Arabia, and Russia are leading the global surge for coal, oil and gas, the UNEP report showed last week. 

The Indian government on Monday stated that it would be increasing coal production by 2030 to 1,577 million tonnes, that’s up three-fourths from the current 893 MT. India is the third largest emitter but ranks 126th in per capita emissions, unlike, say, the US which is the second largest emitter and ranked 15th in per capita emissions. 

Long-term plans

Solar panel field in Egypt.

The second report released by UN Climate Change looks at countries’ plans to transition to net-zero emissions by or around 2050. 

It shows that these countries’ greenhouse gas emissions could be roughly 63% lower in 2050 than in 2019, but only if all the long-term strategies are fully implemented on time. 

It looked at the long-term climate action strategies of 75 parties to the Paris Agreement (which recognised the importance of limiting global warming to under 1.5°C). These are among the world’s biggest economies and populations. Today’s report optimistically says, “This is a strong signal that the world is starting to aim for net-zero emissions.”

Stiell stressed that the conclusion of the first global stocktake at COP28 is where nations can regain momentum to scale up their efforts across all areas and get on track with meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement. The stocktake is intended to inform the next round of climate action plans under the Paris Agreement (known as nationally determined contributions, or ‘NDCs’) to be put forward by 2025, paving the way for accelerated action.

“The Global Stocktake report released by UN Climate Change this year clearly shows where progress is too slow. But it also lays out the vast array of tools and solutions put forward by countries. Billions of people expect to see their governments pick up this toolbox and put it to work,” Stiell said.  

WMO’s sobering greenhouse gases report

Another UN body, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) put out its Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Bulletin to “inform” COP28, and it makes for bleak reading. 

Emissions of three important GHGs continued to rise in 2022. Carbon dioxide, the biggest chunk, was 50% above the pre-industrial level for the first time, WMO said. Methane, which accounts for about 19% of the warming effect of long-lived greenhouse gases, also grew. 

But the biggest year-on-year jump on record was seen in nitrous oxide from 2021 to 2022. N2O is both a powerful greenhouse gas and ozone-depleting chemical and accounts for about 7% of the warming effect by long-lived greenhouse gases. About 60% is emitted from natural sources and the rest from sources like biomass burning, fertilizer use, and industrial processes, as well as healthcare use of the gas for anesthesia, and so on.

The WMO’s report laments there is no end in sight to the rising trend of GHG emissions. The last time the Earth experienced a comparable concentration of CO2 was 3-5 million years ago, when the temperature was 2-3°C warmer and sea level was 10-20 meters higher than now, it says. 

Frustration is palpable as carbon clock counts down

After three decades of global climate meetings to reduce greenhouse gases, emissions are forecast to increase 55.2% by 2025 over 1990. 

“Despite decades of warnings from the scientific community, thousands of pages of reports and dozens of climate conferences, we are still heading in the wrong direction,” says WMO Secretary-General Prof Petteri Taalas.

Appealing for rapid change Stiell says, “It’s time to show the massive benefits now of bolder climate action: more jobs, higher wages, economic growth, opportunity and stability, less pollution and better health. We can make COP28 a game-changer.”

Image Credits: IRENA, Babette Plana/Flickr.

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