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Climate Change: The current state of global climate action

A new study says that if governments can deliver on current pledges, the world can limit warming to below 2 degree Celsius

Governments need to drastically stop using fossil fuels now.
Governments need to drastically stop using fossil fuels now. (AP)

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So how is the world doing when it comes to combating climate change? Are we on track, do we have a lot of ground to make up, or is the situation hopeless? These are questions that are difficult to answer with any certainty. However, a recent research article, published in the journal Nature, on 13 April, gives us a clue. The paper, Realization Of Paris Agreement Pledges May Limit Warming Just Below 2°C, states that if long-term decarbonisation pledges by countries are taken to account, we may be on course to limit peak warming to 2 degree Celsius (above pre-industrial levels), by 2100. However, scientists warm that for this to happen, long-term pledges have to be urgently backed up with short-term action.

The article was prepared by a team of international scientists led by Malte Meinhausen of the Climate & Energy College, School of Geography, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Melbourne. The team analysed the latest Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) of countries that signed the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, looking at countries’ near-term and long-term commitments. Many of the latest pledges were made at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow last year, which included pledges by China to reach net zero emissions by 2060, by the US to do the same by 2050. In all, 153 countries had submitted updated NDCs with greater decarbonisation ambition at COP26.

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The authors state that if fully implemented, there’s a good chance of limiting warming to below 2 degree Celsius. As of last year, the world was on course to heat up by 2.4 degree Celsius by 2100. However, the analysis comes with a few caveats. For one, the researchers state that it’s difficult to predict exactly how the world will react to rising emissions. This means that there is a 5% possibility that the world may still heat up by over 2.8 degree Celsius. The second important qualifier is that while it is easy for countries to announce long-term pledges, it is actually more important to enact decisive climate action now. Another crucial fact is that the 2 degree target isn’t good enough, as countries are currently trying to enact policies that limit warming to 1.5 degree Celsius. At current levels of decarbonisation, there is a less than 10% likelihood of meeting that target.

Here is the problem: Fresh emissions are still rising, instead of declining. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report stated that new carbon emissions need to peak by 2025 and decline drastically thereafter. The world needs to cut emissions by 45% (above 2010 levels) by 2030, and reach nearly zero by 2050 to stay within the 1.5 degree goal. The world’s carbon budget—the amount of fresh emissions it can add to the atmosphere and still limit global warming—is nearly over. Countries cannot tap into any new fossil fuel sources, and turn instead to renewable energy, to avoid catastrophic warming. As the article makes clear, countries have indeed made a lot of progress since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015. But the bulk of the work remains. And for this, we have to see an unprecedented level of international cooperation over the coming years.

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