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23rd Sep 2018

Climate pledges 'not enough' to avoid catastrophe, UN says

  • One month from now in Paris, countries will make a new attempt at a global climate treaty. (Photo: UNFCC)

Government pledges made so far are not enough to avoid irreversible catastrophic damage to the world's climate, but the bottom-up approach to climate diplomacy has yielded better results than ever before, the UN's climate chief Christina Figueres said on Friday (30 October).

Figueres made her remarks at a press conference presenting the findings of a UN report aggregating 146 countries' climate pledges, or intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs).

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  • Figueres (l): Governments 'are determined to play their part'. Fabius (r): Plans 'lead us away from the worst-case scenario'. (Photo: UNclimatechange)

“The INDCs have the capability of limiting the forecast temperature rise to around 2.7 degrees Celsius by 2100, by no means enough but a lot lower than the estimated four, five, or more degrees of warming projected by many prior to the INDCs,” said Figueres.

Global temperature has risen by around 0.8 degrees Celsius since the industrial revolution. Scientists say that once the rise has hit 2 degrees, there will be no turning back. The tipping point would likely increase the occurrence of extreme weather events such as floods, droughts, and heat waves.

Governments around the world promised that they would keep the temperature rise under 2 degrees, but an attempt for a global deal on greenhouse gas reduction failed dramatically in Copenhagen five years ago.

One month from now, countries will make a new attempt at a climate deal in Paris.

The difference this time is that a bottom-up approach has been chosen.

"Governments from all corners of the Earth have signalled through their INDCs that they are determined to play their part according to their national circumstances and capabilities,", said Figueres.

While initially there was scepticism about whether enough countries would send in their pledges on time for the UN review, there were many last-minute submissions.

Two days before the 1 October deadline, only 74 countries of 194 had handed in their INDC. But after the last-minute rush, 119 plans had been handed in for 146 countries (the 28 EU countries had handed in theirs collectively, well on time).

The UN-reviewed plans included countries that covered 86 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The EU's Joint Research Centre did its own review, including some plans that were handed in after the deadline. It said in its analysis of the plans of 155 countries, or 90 percent of emissions, that if all plans are carried out, the temperature increase would be 3 degrees.

France's foreign minister Laurent Fabius, whose country will host the climate talks later this year, said the national plans “enable us to change the situation and lead us away from the worst-case scenario”.

He noted that a Paris deal requires setting up “rules for scaling up the ambition set out in the national contributions over time”.

Environmentalists were quick to release statements about the report, mixing cautious optimism combined with a call for more action.

“While the current pledges are inadequate, they're still enough to send a clear signal to investors that the age of fossil fuels is over”, said the anti-fossil fuel movement 350.org.

“Almost all countries have joined the race to set climate targets, because political leaders can no longer afford to ignore the benefits of the transition away from fossil fuels”, said Climate Action Network Europe, adding that “the pledges are not bold enough yet”.

Next month, Fabius will host a ministerial meeting in Paris from 8-10 November, with the actual two-week climate summit kicking off on 30 November.

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