Paris Climate target still off by more than a degree, despite progress

05 January 2018 4 min. read
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New analysis of climate change mitigation related policy shows that the world is currently set to warm by an alarming 3.4°C. Despite improvements being seen due to the implementation of targets set by the Paris Climate agreement, the world would still see warming well above the accord’s 2°C upper target.

The Paris Agreement was hailed as a landmark climate treaty, having set clear global targets for the prevention of climate change. The accord set targets for planetary warming of no more than 2°C by 2100, with a strong preference for 1.5°C. The coming into force of the agreement was said to offer humanity the real possibility of working together to solve one of the most pressing issues for modern times.

However, according to new research, the policies presently being implemented in the name of the agreement are still not enough to avert catastrophic levels of global warming. To better understand the current state of play, as well as the future stakes involved in climate efforts, the current intended Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) committed to by signatories of the Paris Agreement, as well as their current policy actions, have been examined by Climate Analytics, Ecofys and the NewClimate Institute. The benchmark, named the Climate Action Tracker, is designed as a backdrop against which current and future planned efforts can be judged.

 2100 warming projections

State of play

As it stands, humanity will miss both global targets by a large margin. Significant improvement has been made on climate action globally, despite US rollbacks resulting from the chaotic Presidency of Donald Trump, with the projected warming of the planet, come 2100, falling by 0.2°C since 2016 to 3.4°C. China’s improvement in terms of policy direction sees around 0.06°C knocked off, while a change across the rest of the world, sees an additional 0.14°C drop. However, the non-cooperation of the US government will mean that temperatures are still likely to rise at least 3.16°C, even if all present NDC pledges are fulfilled.

Under the current policy pathway the rise in temperature could be as high 3.4°C by the end of the century, with a margin of uncertainty suggesting the figure could even range up to 3.7°C. This would mean that despite progress being made, the planet would still be in line with a wide range of uncertainties and critical and existential risks – from the forced mass movement of people and collapse of ecosystems, to resource-driven war and economic collapse.

Changes to current policy initiatives

Given the relative fragility of the current environment, whether economic or natural, mitigating risks where possible is sensible. Transformations of the economic system to more stable practices have been necessary for decades. The longer these changes are delayed, the closer a point of no return will come.

Long way to go

Based on both their NDCs and their current policy ratings, many of the world’s largest economies remain in an insufficient state, highly insufficient or critically insufficient state*. Not all countries are operating with NDCs, instead favouring policies that do not meet the Paris Agreement goals, although there has been significant advancement in many developing economies. India, for instance, is on its way policy-wise, to meet the upper bound 2°C target, while its current NDCs also put it on track for the 2°C target. Ethiopia also has policies in place to hit the 1.5°C target, while Gambia is the only country covered by the report, to reach the 1.5°C target in both categories.

Rating NDCs and policy outcomes

Contrastingly, mature economies, including most large Western countries, continue to operate with NDCs in the insufficient zone. These include the EU, Switzerland and New Zealand, whose policies, as they stand, will need to be updated to reach their NDCs. Present policies for the respective countries languish in highly insufficient territory.

The NDC of the US would have been rated as insufficient, however as it has been withdrawn, the nation currently sits in the critically insufficient range. Russia is in a similar position in terms of NDCs and policies. Chile, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Ukraine, all have considerable steps to take to bring their NDCs and policies in line with the 2°C or lower target.

* Critically insufficient: if all countries acted accordingly, warming exceeds 4°C. Highly insufficient: if all countries acted accordingly warming would be between 3-4°C. Insufficient: if all countries acted accordingly, warming would be between 2-3°C.