‘No credible pathway to 1.5ºC in place’, UNEP report says

Lake le Broc, near Nice, southern France, had lost nearly eight metres of water in a year 5 October, 2022 as the country faced its worst drought in 500 years. (Credit: Keystone/MAXPPP/Sebastien Botella)

A sobering UN report dampens hopes of reining in catastrophic climate change ahead of a crucial climate summit in Egypt.

Countries have barely raised a finger in the last year to ramp up their promises to tackle climate change, according to a report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) released on Thursday.

Updates to climate plans submitted since the last climate summit in 2021 would only shave less than one per cent off projected emissions in 2030, the document warns, calling it a “wasted year”.

The stark findings come one year after countries in Glasgow promised to tackle the climate threat seriously and just 11 days before they meet again, this time in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, to renew their commitments.

But action “is still falling far short of the Paris goals, with no credible pathway to 1.5ºC in place”, UNEP said.

What it means. Current pledges would bring down emissions in 2030 by five to 10 per cent, putting the Earth on a path to 2.4 to 2.6ºC warming by the end of the century – a yawning gap from the 45 per cent cut scientists say is needed to limit global warming to 1.5ºC, or even 30 per cent for a 2ºC scenario.

Another UN report published on Wednesday reached a similar conclusion, finding that only 24 countries had strengthened their climate plans since Cop26, putting the world on track for 2.5ºC warming by 2100.

Read also: UN warns of record high greenhouse gas levels as climate pledges fall short

Scientists have warned that a temperature rise of 1.5ºC or higher could tip a number of the Earth’s climate systems over the edge, causing cascading impacts and even irreversible changes.

A major study published last month found that some of those so-called tipping points may have already been triggered at 1.1ºC warming, which the world has already passed, including the collapse of Greenland’s ice cap, which could lead to sea level rise, and of a North Atlantic current, which could upset rain patterns.

Sea level rise or unpredictable droughts and floods are already affecting the lives of millions of people, destroying their homes or killing their crops. With every inch of warming, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has said the impacts will intensify.

A shrinking window for action. Despite the bleak outlook, UNEP says there is still room for hope if countries act radically. “We had our chance to make incremental changes, but that time is over,” UNEP’s executive director Inger Andersen said at the launch of the report. “Only a root-and-branch transformation of our economies and societies can save us from accelerating climate disaster.”

The report identifies five key sectors where emissions need to be significantly reduced:

  • Electricity. While the shift to renewable energy is well underway, with the cost of solar, wind and other eco-friendly sources dropping significantly in recent years, it should be accelerated. The report urges countries to avoid fossil fuel subsidies and new infrastructure, including phasing out unabated coal needs by 2030.

  • Buildings. The sector makes up 17 per cent of global emissions. As long-lived structures, buildings “lock-in” emissions for a long time, especially if they’re energy inefficient. New buildings should be carbon zero in their operations while the retrofitting rate to make existing buildings energy efficient should be raised to 2.5 to 3.5 per cent per year, compared to less than one per cent currently.

  • Industry. Industrial processes, for example, for cement, iron and steel need to be completely decarbonised, including by electrifying them. For energy-intensive sectors for which electricity is not an option, green hydrogen holds huge potential.

  • Food. Responsible for one third of global emissions, which are projected to double by 2050, food systems are major contributors to climate change but also biodiversity loss and overuse of freshwater resources. Tackling food waste but also encouraging vegan diets are examples of how emissions could be reduced.

  • Finance. The report calls for a reform of the financial sector, including by introducing carbon pricing, taxing, regulating or creating markets for low-carbon technologies.

Andersen said: “It is a tall, and some would say impossible, order to reform the global economy and almost halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, but we must try.”