At the 2015 Paris climate conference, nations agreed to limit global warming to under 2 degrees Celsius relative to preindustrial levels — and preferably to under 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). According to a report the United Nations released on Thursday, the more ambitious 1.5 degree target is now all but out of reach.
This year’s U.N. Environment Program’s Emissions Gap Report found that there was “no credible pathway” to remain under 1.5 degrees Celsius — and that countries are falling “pitifully short” in making good on their national commitments. Under the current policy framework, global temperatures are projected to rise 2.8 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. If nations scale up according to their agreed-upon climate pledges, the projected temperature increase will be between 2.4 and 2.6 degrees Celsius — which would threaten billions of people.
This prognosis comes on the heels of another U.N. analysis released Wednesday, which considered countries’ voluntary emissions commitments. It found modest increases in emissions reductions and adaptation goals over the past year, but not enough to put the world on a better trajectory. Though countries agreed to establish more rigorous emissions plans after last year’s climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, just 24 nations have actually done so. The additional Glasgow pledges would reduce emissions by less than 1 percent by 2030.
Yes, countries have faced unexpected obstacles: The war in Ukraine and fears of a global recession have hindered governments’ ability to enact broad-based change. Yet scientists warn that the window to prevent disastrous levels of climate change is closing.
The next round of global climate talks will convene in just over a week. Critics of the U.N.-led climate process will no doubt roll their eyes. Climate negotiations have yielded incremental, piecemeal agreements, none of which are binding. The upcoming conference, known as COP27, will be complex and fraught, with thorny questions about financing and compensation to developing countries on the agenda. It will almost certainly leave all parties unsatisfied.
Yet, slow-moving and cumbersome as it is, the U.N. system represents the world’s best hope at averting catastrophe. It has already spurred progress. Even partially met climate pledges move the needle. And if all current climate pledges are met, the world will see emissions reductions of between 5 and 10 percent by 2030. This is still insufficient; cuts should increase this decade and accelerate in decades after. But the only viable way to tackle global warming is for climate to become a key topic of global diplomacy, with international negotiators gathering regularly to pressure one another to do better. The very existence of robust monitoring and reporting mechanisms, too, marks a substantial step forward.
Too many have embraced climate defeatism, resigning themselves to the fatalistic view that nothing can be done. Others have written off the U.N. process entirely, believing it is an impediment to transformational change. Neither approach is productive. Instead, parties should make the most of the upcoming talks — starting by following through on the Glasgow vow to scale up national climate pledges.
The world might have missed its chance to stay under 1.5 degrees. But every tenth of a degree prevented represents substantially less misery; 2.8 degrees would be better than what would have happened without the Paris conference, and 2.4 degrees would be better than 2.8. The war to keep the planet inhabitable is still worth waging.
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