Climate and Environment
Climate talks march past deadline
The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Ahead of COP26 climate summit, world remains on a dangerous trajectory and financial pledges are falling short

Banners in Glasgow, Scotland, for the upcoming COP26 climate talks. Glasgow will welcome world leaders and thousands of attendees for the crucial U.N. summit on climate change in November. (Ian Forsyth/Bloomberg News)

Global greenhouse gas emissions are on a catastrophic trajectory and developed nations will fall short of a pledge made more than a decade ago to mobilize $100 billion a year by 2020 to help developing nations transition to greener economies and adapt to climate change, two reports concluded Monday.

The findings raise the stakes for — and threaten to undermine — the success of a United Nations climate summit, known as COP26, that is set to begin in Glasgow, Scotland, next week and could determine whether the world can effectively reset its climate trajectory.

Greenhouse gas emissions are on a path to increase 16 percent by the end of the decade compared with 2010, setting the world on a dangerous course of continued warming, the United Nations said in a report synthesizing the Nationally Determined Contributions — or commitments — of 192 nations to reduce emissions.

Without more-ambitious pledges, the world is projected to warm 2.7 degrees Celsius (4.9 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century compared with the end of the 1800s — far above the Paris climate accord’s goal of limiting warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) compared with preindustrial levels, and, if possible, to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).

“The message from this update is loud and clear: Parties must urgently redouble their climate efforts,” said Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

World leaders will gather in Glasgow, Scotland, from Oct. 31 to Nov. 12 for the 26th annual United Nations conference on climate change. (Video: Joy Yi/The Washington Post)

She said that “overshooting the temperature goals will lead to a destabilized world and endless suffering, especially among those who have contributed the least” to climate change.

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A separate report Monday from Canadian Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson and Jochen Flasbarth, his German counterpart, said rich countries would probably meet their goal of providing $100 billion annually to developing nations in 2023 — three years behind schedule.

The pair was tasked by COP26 President Alok Sharma with coming up with a plan to deliver the funds — an issue he has called “totemic.” The failure of rich countries to meet their goal has fueled mistrust among developing nations, which historically have done less to fuel climate change but are disproportionately vulnerable to its consequences.

The issue is poised to be a major sticking point at COP26, where slowing the world’s warming will depend on good faith and collective action. Many developing nations have said their climate pledges are conditional on receiving outside support.

“I’m disappointed, as are developing countries,” Flasbarth told reporters Monday. “But … there is a lot of money already on the table. There is a lot of support and it will increase and it has to increase.”

The report, which is based on projections from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, estimates that financing will reach or surpass $100 billion in 2023 and exceed $110 billion in 2025. Many analysts have said the initial $100 billion-a-year goal is insufficient.

Mohamed Adow, director of Power Shift Africa, a Nairobi-based think tank, said the inability of rich countries to keep their promise is “utterly shameful.”

“Poor nations will not be conned,” he said, “and the leaders of the developed world need to pull their finger out and get this money on the table if COP26 is going to be a success.”

Eddy Pérez, international climate diplomacy manager for Climate Action Network Canada, said that while the “level of honesty” from rich countries about missing their collective target is welcome, the gap is “unacceptable.”

“The question today is: Does this document actually show the urgency that it is for rich countries to massively scale up climate finance flows during the COP … and the clear answer is no,” he said. “The message that is coming from this document is you need to wait until 2023 to see if we will be able to deliver the $100 billion.”

The report doesn’t name and shame individual countries, but says that “all developed countries have to step up efforts.” It said one reason developed nations have missed their target is because “private finance mobilization underperformed against expectations.”

Efforts to marshal the funding have been complicated by debates about whether the aid should take the form of loans or grants. Determining how much has been mobilized has been difficult because of a lack of uniformity in how countries account for climate finance.

An analysis last month from the OECD found that developed nations marshaled $79.6 billion in 2019 — up 2 percent from 2018, but $20 billion short of the promise. Final totals for 2020 aren’t yet available, but officials said it was becoming clear the goal hadn’t been met. The OECD estimates funding ranging from $83 billion to $88 billion this year.

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President Biden announced last month at the U.N. General Assembly that he would work with Congress to double U.S. funding provided each year to help low-income nations combat climate change to $11.4 billion by 2024.

The U.N. report included 116 new or updated Nationally Determined Contributions. Some 71 nations have set a target to be “carbon-neutral” around mid-century. It also found that the countries with the most ambitious goals would see their greenhouse gas emissions lowered by 83 to 88 percent in 2050 compared with 2019.

The scientific consensus, contained in the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, estimated that capping global average temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius requires that carbon dioxide emissions be reduced by 45 percent in 2030.

“There has been progress,” Sharma said, “but not enough.”

The U.N. weather agency also released a sobering report Monday, warning that concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached records in 2020, despite the economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are way off track,” said Petteri Taalas, secretary general of the World Meteorological Organization. “We need to revisit our industrial, energy and transport systems and whole way of life.”

The group’s report said scientists found that carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, had reached 149 percent of preindustrial levels. Methane, which has a warming impact more than 80 times that of carbon dioxide over 20 years, was up 262 percent.

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson confessed Monday that he was “very worried” about COP26 failing.

Asked about getting the world leaders to commit to net-zero emissions by 2050, he said: “I think it can be done. It will be very, very tough, this summit, and I’m very worried because it might go wrong and we might not get the agreements that we need, and it’s touch-and-go.”

The prime minister was speaking with schoolchildren about climate change. He said “peer pressure” was a good tool to wield, but he repeated, “It’s very, very far from clear that we will get the progress that we need.”

These are some of the most pessimistic comments that Johnson — usually the buoyant optimist — has made.

He also joked with the children that the balance of nature could be restored by feeding “some of the people … to the animals.”

Booth reported from London and Coletta from Toronto. Brady Dennis and Sarah Kaplan in Washington contributed to this report.

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