GHG reduction pledges are ‘staggeringly short’ of 1.5 C target

NY Times, Feb 27, 2021 The global scientific consensus is clear: Emissions of planet-warming gases must be cut by nearly half by 2030 if the world is to have a good shot at averting the worst climate catastrophes.

The global political response has been underwhelming so far.

New climate targets submitted by countries to the United Nations would reduce emissions by less than 1 percent, according to the latest tally, made public Friday by the world body.

The head of the United Nations climate agency, Patricia Espinosa, said the figures compiled by her office showed that “current levels of climate ambition are very far from putting us on a pathway that will meet our Paris Agreement goals.”

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The initial NDC Synthesis Report focuses on nationally determined contributions (NDCs) that parties to the agreement have released ahead of COP26, a summit in Glasgow now scheduled for November, after being postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The report only accounts for countries’ submissions through the end of last year, detailing the cumulative impact of new or updated pledges from 75 parties representing approximately 30% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Although the world is awaiting additional updates from major emitters including India and the United States—which just rejoined the Paris agreement under President Joe Biden—experts and climate campaigners still responded to the U.N.’s findings with alarm and calls to action.

“It’s staggering how far off track countries are to dealing with the climate crisis,” said Mohamed Adow, director of Power Shift Africa. “If you would believe the rhetoric of world leaders you’d think they were making great progress and about to solve it. This is why it’s good to have a report that lays out the facts in stark reality.” 

Oxfam’s global climate policy lead, Nafkote Dabi, called the U.N.’s findings “appalling.” While experts have long warned that even a 1.5°C temperature rise will affect people worldwide, she emphasized that greater efforts are needed to at least meet that target and “avoid disastrous impacts on vulnerable communities.”

“The U.S., Canada, and China—accounting together to over a third of total global emissions—are yet to submit their revised climate plans, while Australia did not bother to revise theirs, and Brazil did not increase their ambitions to cut emissions,” Dabi said. “Even the E.U.’s revised target to reduce emissions from 40% to 55%, is still far below their owed 65% reduction fair share to limit global warming. This is irresponsible.”

Agnes Hall, global campaigns director at, described the new report as “extremely disappointing.” She too called out Australia and Brazil as well as Japan and South Korea for submitting “sub-standard” pledges, and called on their leaders to “wake up and come back with better plans by COP26.” She also urging the U.S., China, Canada, and other big polluters to “step up” and submit their plans.

According to Hall: “We need a just recovery from the global health pandemic, ensuring that the solutions to the economic crisis caused by Covid-19 must also be the solutions to the climate crisis. A just recovery means rebuilding our economy in a way that works for the many, not just the already-wealthy few. It means guaranteeing universal access to healthcare, education, and a clean environment as basic human rights. It means creating millions of good-paying jobs in industries that don’t hurt the environment and don’t pollute our communities. It means stopping funding fossil fuels and equitable solutions to the climate crisis so that no member of our society will be forgotten or unjustly bear the costs of climate change.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres similarly connected the ongoing pandemic to countries’ efforts to address the climate crisis, saying Friday that “Covid-19 recovery plans offer the opportunity to build back greener and cleaner.”

Dubbing the report “a red alert for our planet,” he declared that “2021 is a make or break year to confront the global climate emergency.”

Incoming COP26 president Alok Sharma echoed that the report should serve as a call to action and the demand that major emitters urgently submit and enact ambitious plans to slash emissions, warning that “we must recognize that the window for action to safeguard our planet is closing fast.”