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

05 January 2018

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.


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WEF finds no progress made on greening economy

01 April 2019

The reports of two influential bodies, in the space of a day, have warned that no progress is being made to prevent major climate change. The World Economic Forum has warned that greening of the global energy transition has stagnated over last five years, while the International Energy Agency has confirmed coal use rose again last year.

The position of the Academies of Science from 80 countries, plus a majority of scientific organisations that study climate science, is that humans are causing rapid climate change – often referred to as global warming. Roughly 95% of active climate researchers publishing climate papers endorse the consensus position that since the industrial revolution, the boom in carbon emissions from fossil fuel powered human activity has heavily impacted the planet, with rising levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases trapping heat from the sun causing global temperatures to rise – something which will have catastrophic results in the near future.

Despite the steadfast consensus among the scientific community on the matter, however, there has been little to no meaningful action to avert disaster. In fact, while the signing of the Paris Accord was met with great excitement, since it came into force, global carbon dioxide emissions have continued to rise. Today, they sit at their highest levels yet, after a strong economy and extreme weather stoked a surge in energy demand last year.WEF finds no progress made on greening economyAccording to the world’s energy watchdog, the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA), energy spiked by 2.3% in 2018 – the biggest leap since 2010 – with that demand largely being met with fossil fuels. As a result, global emissions of carbon dioxide hit the record high of 33 billion tonnes in 2018, a rise of 1.7% on 2017’s figures. Commenting on the findings, IEA chief Fatih Birol said the rise in energy demand was “exceptional” and a “surprise for many.”

Birol added, “We have seen an extraordinary increase in global energy demand in 2018, growing at its fastest pace this decade. Looking at the global economy in 2019, it will be rather a surprise to see the same level of growth as 2018.”

The suggestion from Birol that 2018 is likely to be an anomaly which will not be seen again is strange, considering the added strain which the boom in emissions will place on the environment. To suggest that heightened energy demand was driven by extreme weather – which is increasingly difficult to claim is unrelated to man-made climate change – and then to suggest that such a thing is unlikely to occur any time soon in spite of emissions having increased seems contradictory.

Regardless of this, the bad news was further compounded within hours of the IEA’s release. A report from the World Economic Forum released on the same day concluded that the world's energy systems have not become any greener in the last five years. Despite the agreement of global climate targets, falling green power costs, and mounting public and business concern over the catastrophic impacts runaway climate change could wreak, the WEF’s damning assessment warned that little to no progress has been made on making energy systems more environmentally sustainable since 2014.

Coal is the largest hindrance of change on this front, according to the report. Recent years have seen improvements in energy access and security, but far too many nations remain dependent on coal power for the new energy systems to have made any environmental gains. At the same time, major economies have failed to decrease or even slow the amount of energy they use per unit of GDP, leaving smaller actors who have made changes micturating into a gale. Change on the part of the world’s largest economies is therefore crucial to driving the development of a greener, more efficient global economy, the WEF concluded.

Commenting on the findings, Roberto Bocca, leader of the WEF's future of energy and materials division, said urgent action is now needed to move toward decarbonisation. He added, "We need a future where energy is affordable, sustainable and accessible to all. Solid progress in bringing energy within the reach of more and more people is not enough to mask wider failures, which are already having an impact on our climate and on our societies."

The news comes even as sustainability continues to be talked about as a ‘top agenda item’ at the majority of the world’s largest corporations. While 85% say that it will be more important still in another five years, it is clear that the majority of the world’s most powerful businesses are failing to walk the talk on the matter, regardless of what governments do.