A 2019 report by the World Meteorological Organization revealed that atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations hit a record in 2018, a major blow to the limits set by countries for fuel emissions. According to Phys.org, an internet news portal that provides the latest news on science, global emissions need to fall by 7.6% each year until 2030 to limit temperature rises to 1.5C. But, with the current emissions, the goal may not be achieved.
"We are failing to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Unless we take urgent action now and make very significant cuts to global emissions we're going to miss the target of 1.5C,” Inger Andersen, UNEP’s executive director, said.
Many international organizations have also reminded countries of the consequences of their inactions. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), for instance, issued a stark warning that going beyond 1.5C would increase the frequency and intensity of heatwaves, superstorms, and mass flooding. UN Secretary-General António Guterres also warned that the “point of no return is no longer over the horizon. It is insight and hurtling toward us.”
“Do we really want to be remembered as the generation that buried its head in the sand, that fiddled while the planet burned?” he asked.
The 2015 Paris Climate Agreement
Decreasing greenhouse gas emissions has become a priority for many countries as climate change brings drastic impacts not only to our environment but also to the whole society. In 2015, parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) reached a landmark agreement to substantially reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. This agreement aims to limit the global temperature in this century to 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, while pursuing means to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees.
This is the time that many nations gathered to specifically discuss efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects. The accord also aims to increase the ability of countries to deal with the impacts of climate change. Some of the solutions that they decided on to reach the goals include creating a new technology framework and enhanced capacity-building as well as appropriate mobilization and provision of financial resources. The pact also emphasized the need to support and assist developing nations in their climate mitigation and adaptation efforts.
According to NRDC, a US-based nonprofit international environmental advocacy group, the agreement asked the participating countries to work to achieve a leveling-off of global greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible and to become carbon neutral no later than the second half of this century. The nations that are responsible for more than 90% of global emissions were required to submit submitted carbon reduction targets, known as “intended nationally determined contributions” (INDCs), to reach the objectives set by the body. These targets showed each nation’s commitments for curbing emissions through 2025 or 2030, which includes economy-wide carbon-cutting goals and the individual commitments of some 2,250 cities and 2,025 companies.
The Paris Agreement Might Fail
The Paris Climate Change Agreement is very promising, considering the number of countries committed and their individual goals. Unfortunately, almost five years since the accord, the world is still not on track to meet its plans. A 2019 report revealed that emissions will be 4% higher than those in 2015. Joeri Rogelj, a lecturer in climate change at the Grantham Institute, Imperial College London, said that emissions will gradually continue to increase on average if no structural change prevents the slowdown of greenhouse gas emissions.
According to The Guardian, a British daily newspaper, some structural changes could include investment in renewable energy, low-carbon infrastructure, and plans to make buildings more energy-efficient. “As long as global CO2 emissions are not embarking on a clear downward trajectory it is clear that we are not only continuing to make climate change worse, we’re doing it at a pace faster than ever before,” Rogelj said.
Most countries committed to the agreement are not on target to meet even the modest commitments they made in Paris. The 2019 annual assessment of progress produced by the Dutch Environmental Assessment Agency revealed that only 7 out of 25 parties analyzed are on track to achieve their NDCs. According to Vox, a liberal-leaning American news and opinion website owned by Vox Media, the achievement of 2030 targets for the European Union and Mexico is uncertain with implemented policies. Meanwhile, another 16 states would not meet their NDCs unless they adopted additional [greenhouse gas] control measures.
Additionally, several reports have shown that the countries’ current NDCs put Earth on course to heat by far more by 2100, which is between 3C and 4C above the historic baseline. To quantify the potential net economic gain rapid action to climate change could bring, an international team of climate experts simulated the costs of global cooperative action under a variety of scenarios. They found out that the world would gain $336 to $422 trillion by 2100 if action was taken to keep warming to 2C and 1.5C respectively.
The findings of the report, however, revealed that failures to meet the Paris Climate Change Agreement goals could lose up to $600 trillion ($126 to $616 trillion) by the end of the century. This amounts to an average loss of 0.57% of national GDP annually to 2100. Countries failing to live up to their current NDC pledges can also lose between $150 trillion and $790 trillion—up to 7.5 times current global GDP.
"We think that if every country or region can greatly enhance their actions for emission mitigation, it is possible to achieve the 1.5C. But implementing such a self-preservation strategy in a real word requires countries to recognize the gravity of global warming and to make breakthroughs in low-carbon technologies,” lead study author Biying Yu from the Beijing Institute of Technology said.
Rachel Kennerley, a climate campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said that current climate plans showed that developed nations must do more. “Budgets should be rebalanced to provide emergency financial and help poorer nations – it’s the fair and right thing to do. If we don’t pay now, this is the kind of bill that, like a person ignoring a credit card statement, will only multiply in time,” she said.