An NGO dedicated to tracking the likely future of global warming has recently published a new report that includes some conservatively optimistic results.

The Climate Action Tracker group has been recording and analysing state policy on carbon emissions for over a decade and its most recent reports have usually contained dire warnings. However, its December 2020 briefing suggests the warming of the climate could slow in the future – if states stick to their agreements, that is.

Following the failure of the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009, the Climate Action Tracker suggested global temperature would rise by 3.5C by 2100. This figure was subsequently revised down, especially after the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015, although by September this year, the group was still providing a figure of 2.7C. Its December report released this week, further reduces this number to 2.1C, a significant reduction over a period of only three months. According to their briefing, the most important developments during this period was the election of Joe Biden as US President and Chinese pledges to reach net zero emissions by 2060.

Biden’s climate policy has been seen as a major departure from President Trump’s, which saw the US leaving the Paris Agreement. Instead, Biden has pledged to rejoin the international community in climate efforts via the Paris Agreement and has made his own promises to reach net zero status by 2050. The US and Chinese policies alone could, according to the CAT, reduce temperature increase by 0.1C and 0.3C respectively. Japan, South Korea, Canada and South Africa have also outlined similar goals, while the EU is expected to reveal their own targets by the end of the year.

However, the report stresses that the figure of 2.1C is the median score of an ‘optimistic scenario’ that sees states sticking to these agreements and effectively implementing them. Despite this, the figure of 2.1C, and even the lowest ‘optimistic value’ of 1.7C is still higher than the 1.5C figure that was set at Paris. Furthermore, the ‘un-optimistic’ – some may say ‘realistic’ scenario – only cites a median figure of 2.6C. 

States Still Need to do More in the Short-Term

Climate scientists claim that we need to keep the global temperature increase under 1.5C in order to avoid the worst of catastrophic environmental damage and effects. If states were to implement no climate protection policies whatsoever and simply continue the trend of current emissions, we could expect the global temperature to rise by as much as 4.8C by the end of the century.

Therefore, although the report commends states for tabling such policies, it also adds that governments must do more to align their short term goals with those of their new net zero promises. The CAT report states:

“The end of 2020 deadline to submit new and updated NDCs (nationally determined contributions) is fast approaching. These strengthened NDCs are critical to ensuring governments can meet their mid-century net zero targets. Governments must also develop detailed implementation plans to support these targets.

However, there remains little positive movement by governments to improve their 2030 NDC targets since Paris in 2015. As of November 2020, no large emitter had submitted a substantially updated NDC since the adoption of the Paris Agreement. Moreover, governments’ current policies put them on a warming trajectory of 0.8°C higher than our optimistic net zero target assessment.”

There are also other obstacles in the way. Firstly, only the UK and New Zealand currently has net zero policies enacted in law, all other national plans are only in early stages to development or discussion. There are also several major states who have not engaged in any serious policy discussion about net zero goals, or have subsequently abandoned them, including Russia, Australia, and Saudi Arabia. To effectively reduce global temperature increase, we need a global effort encompassing all the major polluting countries in the world.

This latest report does suggest the global community is heading – on paper at least – broadly in the right direction. And the increased focus on environmental issues across countries, regions and diverse demographics will also hopefully provide the grassroots support and pressure to ensure targets are agreed on and ultimately met.

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