Wildfires are reaching record levels of destruction, unprecedented weather events are destroying lives and livelihoods across the world, suffocating droughts are wreaking havoc on global food systems — it’s clear that our climate goals are not enough. 

The world’s biggest economies and carbon emitters will meet next week in Glasgow for the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), the most critical climate event of our generation. Ahead of the talks, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) released an updated synthesis report which reveals that the global temperature rise is on track to reach a devastating level of 2.7 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.  

The report takes into account the latest updates to countries’ nationally determined contributions (NDCs), which outline greenhouse gas emissions targets and net zero carbon emission reductions under the Paris agreement. The updated report serves as climate action guidance for nations attending COP26. It projected that the NDCs of the 192 parties that make up the Paris agreement will account for a 16% increase — up from 2010 — in global greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.   

“The message from this update is loud and clear: Parties must urgently redouble their climate efforts if they are to prevent global temperature increases beyond the Paris agreement’s goal of well below 2 C — ideally 1.5 C — by the end of the century,” said Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the UNFCCC, on the updated NDCs of 143 countries.

“This updated report unfortunately confirms the trend already indicated in the full Synthesis Report, which is that we are nowhere near where science says we should be,” she added. 

While the UNFCCC analysis shows that updated NDCs can reduce greenhouse gas emissions over time, the overall effort is not enough in terms of keeping global warming within the 1.5 degrees Celsius target. The predicted increase of 16% could lead to a 2.7 degrees Celsius temperature rise by 2100.

The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released in August detailed the devastating impact that a temperature increase exceeding pre-industrial levels by 1.5 degrees Celsius will have on our planet. If the global temperature rises to 2 degrees beyond pre-industrial levels, extreme heat waves which normally take place every 50 years could occur every 3.5 years, leading to unlivable conditions for certain regions and an increase of widespread droughts and wildfires around the world. 

We are currently at 1.1 degrees Celsius of warming, which has increased extreme weather events and catastrophic floods. Without immediate action, we will surpass the 1.5 degrees Celsius limit and reach a point of no return. The world’s wealthiest nations have contributed the most to the climate crisis and the world’s poorest countries — which are least responsible for global warming — will suffer the worst consequences. 

A United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Emissions Gap report published on Tuesday confirms the findings of the UNFCCC report and advises that if we’re to meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal, the world must reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by 50% in the next eight years. 

It’s clear that countries are not cutting their emissions and upping their commitments quickly enough to actively address climate change. The Emissions Gap report found that only half of the newly updated NDCs would reduce emissions by 2030, compared to previous NDCs. As of Sept. 30, only 120 countries, representing over half of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, have submitted new or updated NDCs. 

The US, EU, UK, Argentina, and Canada have submitted the largest emissions reductions in their updated NDCs. Australia announced on Tuesday that it would aim to reach net zero emissions by 2050 but has not updated their emission goals for 2030. China and Japan have not formally communicated their updates to the UNFCCC and Indonesia has submitted NDCs that show no reductions from their previous targets.

“So there has been progress, but not enough. That is why we especially need the biggest emitters, the G20 nations, to come forward with stronger commitments if we are to keep 1.5 C in reach over this critical decade,” said COP26 President Alok Sharma on the UNFCCC update. “Glasgow must launch a decade of ever-increasing ambition. At COP26 we must come together for ourselves, future generations, and our planet.”

Scientists and experts agree that global emission reductions are key to preventing the worst possible effects of climate change. G20 countries reluctant to make vital policy changes account for the majority of the world’s emissions. 

Coal, fossil fuels, and agriculture are just some of the sectors that countries can scale back on to reduce their emissions. Fossil fuel-reliant countries including China — the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter — along with Argentina, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia, and Saudi Arabia are expected to emit more in 2030 than they did in 2010. 

“Many countries are now setting carbon neutral targets and it is hoped that COP26 will see a dramatic increase in commitments,” Professor Petteri Taalas, secretary general of the World Meteorological Organization, said in a press release on Monday. “We need to transform our commitment into action that will have an impact [on] the gases that drive climate change. We need to revisit our industrial, energy and transport systems and whole way of life.”

Overall, G20 countries are not even on track to meet their previous NDCs, let alone their new goals. The UNEP report found that if countries met their net zero pledges, we could limit global warming to 2.2 degrees Celsius — but many climate action plans will not be implemented until after 2030 and some remain unclear and ambiguous.  

The two reports send a dire warning to countries ahead of the COP26 climate conference. Parties updating their NDCs must increase their ambitions, act quicker, and back their commitments up with tangible policies or we will see the cataclysmic toll of a 2.7 degrees Celsius rise.

“The needed changes are economically affordable and technically possible. There is no time to lose,” said Taalas. 


Defend the Planet

The World Is on Track for a Disastrous 2.7 Degrees of Warming, UN Confirms

By Kate Nakamura