Climate change crisis: New study finds that 136 of 184 countries’ pledges are insufficient to slow destruction of planet

"In 2020, for the first time, climate change will be a major topic in a US presidential election. I am hopeful this will stir the electorate to take decisive action and ultimately redouble US efforts to make the Paris Agreement successful," McCarthy, co-author of the study told MEA WorldWide (MEAWW)


                            Climate change crisis: New study finds that 136 of 184 countries’ pledges are insufficient to slow destruction of planet

Nearly three-quarters of the 184 climate pledges made under the Paris Agreement - aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions - are inadequate to slow climate change. A report - which criticizes the US' decision to reverse key national policies to combat climate change - has come at a time when the Trump administration has formally notified the United Nations (UN) of its decision to pull out of the climate agreement. According to estimates, the US is the second-largest emitter of greenhouse gas (GHG) and carbon dioxide, accounting for about 13% and 14%, respectively.

"Slippage in meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement by any nation will potentially cost us human lives, overall human health and well-being, ecosystem robustness, and damage to public and private property around the globe. For a major greenhouse gas emitter such as the US, the consequences could be huge. Many of President Trump's efforts to reverse US national policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are being challenged in the courts. In addition, many states and cities have stepped up to increase their commitments to reduce emissions," James J. McCarthy, Professor of Oceanography at Harvard University and a co-author of the report, told MEA WorldWide (MEAWW). 

"Fortunately, in 2020, for the first time, climate change will be a major topic in a US presidential election. I am hopeful that this will stir the electorate to take decisive action and ultimately redouble US efforts to make the Paris Agreement successful," McCarthy, who is former co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group II, told MEAWW.

To achieve the Paris Agreement's more ambitious goal of keeping global warming below 1.5°C (3.6° F) above pre-industrial levels requires reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions globally by 50 percent by 2030. The report - 'The Truth Behind the Climate Pledges', published by the Universal Ecological Fund - examines the 184 voluntary pledges under the Paris Agreement, the first collective global effort to address climate change. 

Paris Agreement

The analysis shows emissions from the top four emitters combined account for 56% of global greenhouse gas emissions – China (26.8%), the US (13.1%), the European Union and its 28 Member States (9%) and India (7%). 

"The comprehensive examination found that with few exceptions, the pledges of rich, middle income, and poor nations are insufficient to address climate change. Simply, the pledges are far too little, too late," says Sir Robert Watson, former chair of the IPCC and co-author of the report. 

The climate pledges, made under the Paris Agreement, were aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions. (Source: The Truth Behind the Climate Pledges, published by the Universal Ecological Fund)

The findings

Out of 184 pledges, almost 75% were judged as insufficient to stop climate change from continuing to accelerate in the next decade, according to the research team. According to the researchers, only 36 pledges were found to be sufficient based on commitments to reduce emissions by at least 40% by 2030; and 12 pledges were considered partially sufficient for their commitments to reduce emissions between 40-20% by 2030. Further, 136 pledges were partially or totally insufficient. 

"Of the 184 climate pledges, 36 were deemed sufficient (19%), 12 partially sufficient (6%), eight partially insufficient (10%), and 128 insufficient (65%). At least 130 nations, including four of the top five world's largest emitters, are falling far short of contributing to meeting the 50 percent global emission reductions required by 2030 to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels," said the report.

Analyzing the biggest emitters, the report said China and India, will reduce emissions intensity, but their emissions will increase, and hence, their pledges have been ranked as insufficient. The US pledge submitted by the Obama Administration to reduce emissions is currently in "limbo".

"Only 28 European Union nations and seven others will reduce emissions by at least 40% by 2030. The EU is expected to cut GHGs emissions by 58% below the 1990 level by 2030." This exceeds the EU's commitment of "at least 40% of GHG emissions below 1990 level," said the report, which ranked the EU pledge as sufficient.

The remaining 152 pledges are from nations responsible for 32.5% of global GHG emissions. "Out of that, 127 countries or almost 70% have submitted conditional plans to reduce GHG emissions. The pledges of these nations rely on technical assistance and funding from wealthy nations, estimated at $100 billion annually, for their implementation. The provision of this assistance has been more difficult than was anticipated in 2015. Both the US and Australia have stopped making contributions," said the study.

Further, about 70% of global GHGs emissions are from carbon dioxide due to fossil fuels, which can be rapidly and drastically reduced in a cost-effective way. Switching electricity generation from coal to renewables, for example, can rapidly reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

"This means a five-fold increase in wind and solar energy as well as phasing out and closing 2,400 coal-fired power stations globally within the next decade to reduce coal use by 70 percent by 2030. This is viable and cost-effective. Yet, there are 250 additional coal units under construction," said the report.

About 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions are from carbon dioxide due to fossil fuels, which can be rapidly and drastically reduced in a cost-effective way. (Getty Images)

Analysis ranks the US pledge as insufficient

In 2015, the US committed to reducing "GHG emissions by 26-28% from 2005 levels by 2025." However, the current administration announced the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement and has cut federal regulations meant to curb emissions, and has now formally notified the UN of its intention to withdraw.

"The US is the largest economy in the world, with an average GDP growth rate of two percent a year since 2000. Historically, the US has been the largest emitter in the world. Its carbon dioxide emissions per person are among the highest globally, despite the transition from a manufacturing-based to a service-driven economy. The current carbon emissions per person are 16 tons of carbon dioxide per year. That means that every person in the US emits double what a person in Malaysia, or four times what a person in Mexico does," said the researchers. 

According to the experts, key federal regulations that would enable the US to meet its pledge have been recently suspended, revised, or rescinded. Most importantly, said the team, the Clean Power Plan has been repealed. "It set the first-ever carbon pollution standards for power plants in the US, giving States flexible, cost-effective tools to cut carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired plants by 32% from 2005 levels by 2030," said the report. 

The Trump administration has notified the United Nations (UN) that the US wants to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. (AP)

The researchers say while the original pledge would have been deemed partially sufficient to help in reducing global emissions by 50% by 2030, because of the reversal in federal policy since 2017, the US' pledge has been ranked insufficient. "For the last two decades, the US has been and still is producing 80% of its energy (for electricity, heating, and transportation) from fossil fuels. Until the share of fossil fuel use in the United States energy mix is significantly reduced, state and local efforts will not compensate for the lack of decisive federal action to reduce emissions," the findings stated.

The price

If nations fail to halve greenhouse gas emissions by the next decade, the number of hurricanes, severe storms, wildfires and droughts are likely to double in number, intensity and economic losses. The cost, shows analysis, comes to $660 billion dollars a year or almost $2 billion a day within the next decade. "Economic losses and damages from 690 weather events were $330 billion dollars globally in 2017. These figures have almost doubled in number and in losses compared to 2005 when 347 weather events caused $274 billion dollars in economic losses worldwide –almost half of the economic losses were caused by Hurricane Katrina in the US," the findings stated.

Even if all climate pledges, which are voluntary, are fully implemented, they will cover less than half of what is needed to limit the acceleration of climate change in the next decade, say experts. An important implication of these findings, said McCarthy, is that without constant public vigilance and new activism when warranted, the potential of the Paris Accord to meet its objectives will be at risk. 

"Several things have changed since the Agreement was ratified in 2016: science reports have demonstrated clearer linkages between greenhouse gas accumulation in the atmosphere and disruptive climate; analyses have projected increased difficulty in avoiding costly climate impacts if progress in reducing emissions is not accelerated; and while youth interests in many nations are pushing for more aggressive efforts to slow climate change, President Trump is attempting to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement. Some other recently elected national leaders have suggested that they may do the same. The public needs to know the global implications of such actions," McCarthy told MEAWW.

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