Since putting some emissions reduction pledges (don’t call them commitments!) down on paper after the climate conference in Copenhagen, countries have had nearly four years to start building policies to meet the goals.
Would it surprise you terribly to find out that those pledges — paltry though they were — aren’t being met?
This morning, scientists with the indispensable Climate Action Tracker (CAT) injected some sober reality into the climate talks in Warsaw, reminding gathered delegates and environment ministers that, so far, the only thing getting done in the UNFCCC is a lot of talk and a hell of a lot of photocopying of texts and pledges that, in the words of one CAT scientist “aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.”
The folks at CAT annually crunch the numbers on all the climate pledges from nations around the world, and spit out a couple of numbers, the most telling being the projected increase in global temperatures that will result from those pledges by the end of the century.
After Copenhagen, they figured that if all the pledges were met, the planet would still warm 3.1 degrees Celcius. A scary number — one that would mean some pretty awful things for billions and billions of people all around the world — that was held up by many at the time as a sign of just how weak this “bottom’s up” pledge approach really was.
This year, the CAT team — filled with experts from Climate Analytics, Ecofys, and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research — also plugged in the emissions savings from all the actual policies that have been implemented. The results: even scarier.
CAT’s projections (the full report will be released tomorrow, for now here’s a brief) say that with currently implemented government policies, the world will warm a frightening 3.7 degrees Celcius by 2100.
But wait, it gets worse.
While lots of governments are failing to create policies to meet their modest (to put it generously) pledges, some are even backing off those pledges altogether. First, Japan walked back from a once-relatively ambitious emissions reduction target, and new Australian leadership turned away from its pledge entirely, doing everything short of crumpling up the paper and tossing it out the COP window. (John Upton covered Japan and Australia’s bad behavior earlier this week on Grist.)
“What we’re witnessing is that these pledges are not worth the paper that they’re written on,” Dr. Bill Hare of Climate Analytics said at the conference today. “There’s no recourse, and no way to challenge countries on them.”
“Instead of strong domestic policies to meet ambitious pledges, we’re seeing a weakening of action, and a degradation of pledges that sees the highest 2020 emissions levels the Climate Action Tracker has ever seen,” added Mario Vieweg of Climate Analytics.
And as these pledges slip and slide to lower and lower levels of ambition, just how much warming are we looking at?
“These new developments in the talks this week are pointing us towards warming of 5 degrees Celcius,” said Dr. Hare.
The new CAT report isn’t all doom and gloom, though! A cool addition to the CAT analysis this year is a deeper-dive look at 30 countries (well, 29 countries plus the E.U.), including the world’s 24 largest emitters. And some of those countries are actually doing a halfway decent job. Sure, the best grades went to some of the smallest countries rated (who have pretty scant emissions to begin with). But there’s also been a little bit of positive movement from countries like the U.S. (for the president’s Climate Action Plan) and China, both of which were held up by CAT scientists as small flickers of positive news in an otherwise dingy report. Though it probably won’t surprise you to see the U.S. still hovering in the “inadequate” range. It’s pretty interesting to click around regardless, and see how other countries are graded.