After assessing current pledges by nations to limit carbon dioxide emissions, a new United Nations report details how it is unlikely that the planet will keep within 2 degrees Celsius (35.6 degrees Fahrenheit) of warming by 2100, which is widely seen as the upper limit of safety beyond which the impact of climate change is expected to be much more dangerous. The assessment predicts that the warming will reach just under 3 degrees Celsius (37.4 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of this century, which is better than if left unchecked, but not as much as some nations that will be hardest hit by climate change would like.
Either way, the UN praises the nations on their plans, known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), which will form the basis of the up and coming Paris conference on climate change at the end of this year. “The INDCs have the capability of limiting the forecast temperature rise to around 2.7 degrees Celsius [36.9 degrees Fahrenheit] 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 the UN climate chief Christiana Figueres, in a statement.
The INDC pledges have so far been made by 146 countries, accounting for roughly 90% of global greenhouse gas emissions. This, according to the UN, represents a significant increase in countries taking climate action. Some groups, however, still think that these pledges are not enough. Those nations that are likely to be hit hardest and first by the changing climate are requesting that the target for maximum global warming should in fact be lower, from 2 degrees Celsius (35.6 degrees Fahrenheit) to 1.5 degrees Celsius (34.7 degrees Fahrenheit).
“It is clear that, when added up, the 146 countries’ climate pledges reviewed in the report are not enough,” said WWF-UK’s chief climate advisor Dr Stephen Cornelius in a statement. “A big challenge for the Paris climate talks is how to increase the ambition of countries so that their collective actions will put us on the right path to tackle climate change. The message we have to send to leaders and negotiators in Paris must be: we must do more, and we must do it faster. The more that we do now, the easier and cheaper it will be.”
This assessment paves the way for the climate conference in Paris, which will seek to close a deal on climate targets for the more than 190 governments that are set to attend. The last rounds of talks in Copenhagen in 2009 stumbled and failed to reach a consensus precisely because the attending governments couldn’t agree upon a limit within which to keep the global temperature, with developed countries pushing for the upper limit, while many developing countries wanting to err on the side of caution.
The UN recommends that these figures offer a good starting point for global greenhouse emissions reductions, and that INDCs can make a significant impact as well as signaling a desire to tackle climate change. But evidently governments need to go further, and pledges need to be strengthened.