Climate change: governments’ promises put the planet on a ‘catastrophic path’, warns the UN

The planet is on a “catastrophic path” to a warmer future unless governments make more ambitious promises to cut greenhouse gas emissions, the United Nations chief said on Friday.

National commitments submitted by the signatories to the Paris climate agreement would still result in an increase in emissions of 16% in 2030 compared to 2010 levels, according to a new UN report.

Scientists argue that the world must start drastically reducing emissions soon and, by 2050, add no more to the atmosphere than can be absorbed if the most ambitious goal of the Paris agreement is to be met: limiting temperature rise global to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2100..

Experts say that the planet has already warmed 1.1 C since pre-industrial times. “We need a 45% reduction in emissions by 2030 to reach carbon neutrality by mid-century,” insisted UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

Some 113 countries, including the United States and the European Union, submitted updates to their emissions targets, also known as Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs, at the end of July.

Their promises would result in a 12% drop in emissions for those countries by the end of the decade, a figure that could more than double if promises and conditional guarantees from some governments on the 2050 carbon neutral target are translated into in shares.

“That’s the bright side of the picture,” said UN climate chief Patricia Espinosa, whose office compiled the latest report. “The other is more sobering.”

Dozens of countries, including top emitters such as China, India and Saudi Arabia, did not submit new pledges in time for the report.

Espinosa called on leaders at the UN annual meeting in New York to come up with stronger commitments in time for the world body’s next climate summit in Glasgow.

“Leaders must engage in frank discussion driven not only by the legitimate desire to protect the national interest, but also by the equally dominant goal of contributing to the well-being of humanity,” he said. “We just don’t have any more time to waste, and people all over the world expect no less.”

Espinosa added that some public promises, such as China’s goal of being carbon neutral by 2060, have not yet been formally submitted to the UN and therefore were not taken into account for the report. An update will be released shortly before the Glasgow summit, which would include any additional commitments submitted by then, he said.

Still, environmental activists and representatives of some vulnerable nations expressed disappointment at the findings.

“We must ask ourselves what it will take for some of the major emitters to pay attention to scientific findings and deliver our world from a point of no return,” said Aubrey Webson of Antigua and Barbuda, who chairs the Association of Small Island States. “The findings are clear: if we want to avoid amplifying our already devastating climate impacts, we need major emitters and all G20 countries to implement and adhere to more ambitious NDCs and make firm commitments to net zero emissions by 2050.”

Jennifer Morgan, CEO of Greenpeace International, said that achieving the Paris target would only be possible with “courageous leadership and bold decisions.”

“Governments are letting vested interests make climate decisions, rather than serving the global community,” he said. “You must stop passing the buck to future generations; now we are living in the climate emergency.”

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