National climate pledges are too weak to avoid catastrophic warming. Most countries are on track to miss them anyway.

The global effort to combat climate change boils down to this: Bending a very stubborn curve.

At the upcoming U.N. climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland — COP26 for short — countries will face pressure to make more ambitious pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions with the goal of keeping average global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, compared to preindustrial levels.

Global greenhouse gas emissions

An analysis of national climate pledges by Climate Action Tracker, an independent international collaboration of climate scientists, shows the policies of many countries are inconsistent with their public pledges to cut greenhouse gases.

Those pledges, in turn, are mostly too weak to collectively meet the goals forged as part of the 2015 Paris agreement: to keep global warming “well below” 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, and, if possible, stop at 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Projected greenhouse gas emissions in 2030

Earth has warmed more than 1 degree Celsius on average over the past century, and many places have warmed by at least 2 degrees, a Washington Post analysis of multiple temperature data sets found. The United Nations warned in a recent report that the world is on a path to reach 2.7 degrees Celsius, or 4.9 degrees Fahrenheit, of warming over the course of the century.

The United States has pledged to further reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, but its emissions are currently projected to remain mostly unchanged over the coming decade, according to the Climate Action Tracker analysis. Altering that path would require significant shifts in the way Americans travel and power their homes and businesses, scientists say.

The Biden administration, along with its European allies, has sought to persuade the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, China, and other major nations to commit to more ambitious, detailed plans ahead of COP26.

Past and projected greenhouse gas emissions for the United States

Climate Action Tracker analyzes pledges to reduce greenhouse gases from dozens of countries, which together account for about 80 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

It also assesses whether individual countries are doing their fair share to arrest climate change based on their size and their historical role in causing the problem. Developed countries are expected to make more ambitious cuts than developing countries.

Because more populous countries should also be expected to produce more total greenhouse gas emissions, it is often useful to compare countries according to their emissions per person. A recent U.N. report estimated that average global per person emissions would need to fall to 2.1 tons per year by 2030 to meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius target.

Below, take a look at dozens of nations, and see how their climate plans could alter their future emissions.

About this story

The data for this story comes from Climate Action Tracker, which analyzes countries’ current policies and actions to project a range of future emissions. The charts in this story represent that range as a shaded area, but the table uses the midpoint of that range. This story does not include emissions from land use and forestry. Climate Action Tracker calculates carbon dioxide equivalent emissions based on the Global Warming Potentials from Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fourth Assessment Report.

Climate Action Tracker also analyzes countries’ pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions as stated in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), nonbinding documents submitted to the United Nations that describe emissions reductions plans. In their NDCs, many countries make two pledges — a “conditional” one and an “unconditional” one. The conditional pledge can be met with financial support from other countries. Where applicable, this story uses countries’ unconditional pledges, which can be met using the country’s own resources and capabilities.

Climate Action Tracker analyzes Germany separately from the European Union, but the E.U.'s figures include Germany.

Per person emissions were calculated using historical and medium-variant projected populations from the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

Updated November 13, 2021

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Harry Stevens is a graphics reporter at The Washington Post. He was part of a team at The Post that won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting for the series “2C: Beyond the Limit.”
Brady Dennis is a Pulitzer Prize-winning national reporter for The Washington Post, focusing on the environment and public health. He previously spent years covering the nation’s economy.