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Highlighting Need for World Leaders to Go Into 'Emergency Mode,' Analysis Finds Earth on Track for 2.4˚C of Warming

"The fact that current global warming is now at 1.2°C above pre-industrial levels only serves to reinforce the urgency of further NDC updates," says a new analysis from Climate Action Tracker.

Greenpeace activists projected a message to world leaders to demanding urgent action to turn the tide on the worsening climate emergency on April 21, 2021 in Seoul, South Korea—the eve of U.S. President Joe Biden's Climate Leaders Summit.

Greenpeace activists projected a message in Seoul, South Korea to world leaders demanding urgent action to turn the tide on the worsening climate emergency on April 21, 2021—the eve of U.S. President Joe Biden's climate leaders summit. (Photo: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

Nations' updated climate targets put the planet on track for 2.4˚C of warming by 2100 and reveal "there is still a long way to go" to meet the Paris climate agreement's goal, an analysis released Tuesday finds.

The projection from the Climate Action Tracker (CAT)—a collaboration of Climate Analytics and NewClimate Institute—includes nationally determined contributions (NDCs) announced at U.S. President Biden's Leaders Summit on Climate last month and other targets announced since September. NDCs refer to each nation's pledge to reduce emissions under the Paris agreement.

End of century warming could be kept to 2.0°C under an "optimistic targets" scenario in which countries follow through on full implementation of the announced net-zero targets. The analysis states that 131 countries, including the U.S. and China, have now either adopted or pledged such a target.

(Image: Climate Action Tracker)The estimated increase in warming reflecting updated pledges represents an improvement; CAT projected in November 2.6˚C of warming. Yet there's still a clear gap between the organization's newly projected level of warming and the Paris agreement's aspirational goal of limiting planetary warming to 1.5˚C by the end of the century, and that should serve as a call to action, researchers said.

"It is clear the Paris agreement is driving change, spurring governments into adopting stronger targets, but there is still some way to go, especially given that most governments don't yet have policies in place to meet their pledges," Bill Hare, CEO of Climate Analytics, said in a statement.

"Our warming estimate from current policies is 2.9˚C," said Hare, "still nearly twice what it should be, and governments must urgently step up their action."

Among the signs of progress singled out in the new publication were commitments announced by some world leaders at Biden's climate summit. From the analysis:

The U.S., Japan, and Canada announced new 2030 nationally determined contribution (NDC) targets. The U.S. target of 50-52% below 2005 levels is a significant step forward, but falls short of the 57-63% below 2005 levels needed to be compatible with the Paris agreement's 1.5°C temperature limit. The Japanese target of 46% below 2013 levels fell short of expectations that the country would announce halving emissions in 2030, let alone adopt the more than 60% needed to be Paris compatible. Canada would only improve its CAT rating if it ditched the less ambitious end of its newly announced target range of 40-45% below 2005 levels by 2030.

There is more cause for concern:

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Brazil's President [Jair] Bolsonaro brought forward the country's climate neutrality goal by 10 years from 2060 to 2050. However, the commitment is dubious [given that] changes in Brazil's 2030 baseline as part of its NDC update last December effectively weakened its NDC target. Likewise, Australia promised to reach to net-zero emissions, at an unspecified date depending upon technology development, but failed to announce stronger 2030 targets. While the leaders of India, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey all spoke, none announced stronger NDCs.

Researchers welcomed a narrowing of the 2030 emissions gap by around 11-14%. The biggest contributors to that decline, according to the analysis, were the U.S, the European Union, China, and Japan.

There is also clear evidence that climate policies CAT has been tracking over the past  decade are moving in the right direction. The report found "the national policies implementation has improved over time, driven by new pledges and in particular falling prices of renewable energy. Our temperature effect of climate policies has also decreased by 0.7°C (from 3.6°C to 2.9°C)."

Despite indications of progress, the 1.5˚C threshold is far off, CAT warns.

"The fact that current global warming is now at 1.2°C above pre-industrial levels only serves to reinforce the urgency of further NDC updates. Moreover, governments have yet to adopt sufficient policies to actually meet the targets they have set. In September 2020, we estimated that currently implemented policies, including the effect of the pandemic, will lead to a temperature rise of 2.9°C by the end of the century."

The analysis suggests a number of actions including for countries to either update their emissions targets or sumbit targets that are 1.5°C-aligned. Countries must scale up actions in terms of climate policies and implementation. An additional step is for richer nations to boost climate finance, because "many developing countries will only be able to meet ambitious 1.5°C compatible pathways with significant support from developed countries."

According to Niklas Höhne of NewClimate Institute, "The wave towards net-zero greenhouse gas emissions is unstoppable."

"The long-term intentions are good," said Höhne. "But only if all governments flip into emergency mode and propose and implement more short-term action, global emissions can still be halved in the next 10 years as required by the Paris agreement."

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