United Nations secretary-general António Guterres has called on wealthy countries, including Australia, to commit to larger cuts to greenhouse gas emissions after a new report published by the UNFCCC found targets being set by national governments are nowhere near enough to limit global warming to safe levels.
The interim NDC Synthesis Report published by the UNFCCC on Friday detailed the results of an assessment of the emissions reduction commitments officially announced by national governments, including those of Australia, finding that they “fall far short” of the reductions needed to limit global warming to levels agreed to under the Paris Agreement.
The synthesis report reviewed the official emissions reduction targets that have been announced by 75 countries under the Paris Agreement, comparing them to the emissions reductions needed to keep global warming to the 1.5 or 2 degrees of temperature increases that were set as goals under the treaty.
The report found that current national targets would see global greenhouse gas emissions remain largely at current levels until at least 2030 and that countries are “nowhere close” to being on track to meet agreed limits to global warming.
Current emissions reduction targets are not sufficient to see a global transition to net zero emissions, with the UNFCCC report suggesting that there was a mere “possibility” that global emissions could peak before 2030.
The report estimated that current targets would see the world on track to reduce global emissions by just 0.5 per cent by 2030, compared to 2010 levels.
The UNFCCC authored report stressed that scientific projections show that to limit global warming to just 1.5°C, global emissions need to be cut by 45 per cent from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050.
Even to limit global warming to 2°C, global emissions need to be cut by 25 per cent from 2010 levels by 2030.
Upon the release of the synthesis report, UN secretary-general António Guterres said that it represented a ‘red alert’ for the planet and called on high emitting countries to commit to stronger 2030 emissions reduction targets.
“2021 is a make or break year to confront the global climate emergency,” Guterres said.
“Today’s interim report from the UNFCCC is a red alert for our planet. It shows governments are nowhere close to the level of ambition needed to limit climate change to 1.5 degrees and meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.”
“The major emitters must step up with much more ambitious emissions reductions targets for 2030 in their Nationally Determined Contributions well before the November UN Climate Conference in Glasgow,” Guterres added.
Secretary-general of the UNFCCC, Patricia Espinosa, said countries had a crucial opportunity for governments to use the recovery from the Covid-19 to incorporate investments in low emissions development.
“This is a rare moment that cannot be lost,” Espinosa said. “As we rebuild, we cannot revert to the old normal. The NDCs must reflect this reality and major emitters, especially G20 nations, must lead the way.”
Just 30 per cent of emissions and 40 per cent of countries are covered by official nationally determined contributions considered by the interim report. However, Espinosa noted that the UNFCCC will publish a final assessment of national targets before the next round of international climate change negotiations, set to be held in late 2021 in Glasgow.
“We congratulate Parties that rose to the challenges posed by COVID-19 in 2020, honoured their commitments under the Paris Agreement and submitted their NDCs by the deadline,” Espinosa added. “But it’s time for all remaining Parties to step up, fulfil what they promised to do under the Paris Agreement and submit their NDCs as soon as possible. If this task was urgent before, it’s crucial now.”
The Morrison government has faced growing pressure to formally commit Australia to net zero emissions target for 2050, however, it has so far resisted committing to achieving a shift to zero emissions by a particular deadline.
A total of 110 countries have made formal commitments to a zero emissions target by 2050, with the world’s largest emitter, China, committing to a net zero emissions target by 2060.
However, Morrison has been steadfast in a refusal to set a date for Australia reaching zero net emissions.
Prime minister Scott Morrison has also effectively ruled out any changes to Australia’s 2030 emissions reduction target of 26 to 28 per cent below 2005 levels, which was first announced in 2015.
Latest emissions data published by the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources showed Australia’s emissions increased in the third quarter of 2020, as activity began returning to normal after Covid-19 related lockdowns.
Greenpeace Australia Pacific’s head of research and investigations Dr Nikola Casule said the weak targets, including those of Australia, had the world on track for worsening climate change.
“Australia’s dangerously weak Paris targets are putting us on a path for more farm-wrecking droughts, more koalas being burned alive in catastrophic bushfires, and the irreversible destruction of more of the Great Barrier Reef,” Casule said.
“The fact that Australia has refused to submit updated climate commitments is not only giving the middle finger to all Australians feeling the impacts of the climate crisis, it’s giving a middle finger to the rest of the world.”