Window to meet global climate goals ‘rapidly closing,’ UN report warns – National



Efforts to curb global warming are far off track and urgent action is needed to get back on the course agreed to eight years ago, according to a sobering new United Nations report released Friday.

Those actions must include “the phase-out of unabated fossil fuels,” the inaugural Global Stocktake report said, using unprecedented language previously avoided by international climate negotiators. That would help the world meet the original 2015 Paris climate agreement goals before it’s too late, the authors added, which will now require cutting global emissions of heat-trapping gases by 43 per cent by 2030, compared to 2019 levels, and 60 per cent by 2035.

“The window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future for all is rapidly closing,” Friday’s report cautioned.

The report served as a stark warning to world leaders just one day before they gather for the annual G20 summit in India, where climate action is expected to be a key topic of conversation as countries around the world face real-world consequences of rising temperatures.

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Its findings will also form the basis of the COP28 environment talks in Dubai at the end of the year, which will be focused on updating nations’ emissions targets and other climate goals.

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The Global Stocktake was mandated as part of the historic 2015 Paris Agreement, where nearly 200 countries agreed to limit warming to no more than 2 C above pre-industrial levels, and to strive to keep the increase to 1.5 C.

Those countries agreed to set their own climate actions, including emissions targets and other initiatives, and to ratchet them up every five years. The “stocktake” serves as a midterm grade to determine how the global effort is progressing, and comes after a two-year evaluation of data.

Limiting warming to 1.5 C is another window of opportunity that is rapidly closing, the report said. Earlier this year, the World Meteorological Organization said there’s a two-out-of-three chance that in the next five years, Earth will exceed that threshold for a year.

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The world has already warmed about 1.1 C since the mid-1800s, and just baked through the hottest summer ever recorded. Ocean temperatures keep smashing records. Canada’s wildfire season, which is not over yet, has been record-breaking as well.

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While the calls for transformation change to climate policies are notable — the report uses a version of the words “urgent” and “transform” at least once on each of its 45 pages — climate experts say the overall message is nothing new.

“It’s discouraging how many reports keep saying the same thing with increasing desperation,” said Kathryn Harrison, a political science professor at the University of British Columbia who studies climate and energy policy.

“It’s urgent because we’re off track.”

The report does give credit to the Paris Agreement participants for enacting “near-universal climate action,” which the authors acknowledge is “proceeding” — just not quickly enough.

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“The problem is we are doing something, but we’re on the bunny slopes and we need to get on the black diamonds,” said Simon Donner, a climate scientist and UBC professor.

The report’s call for a phase-out of unabated fossil fuels also comes with advice for moving away from the internal combustion engine and toward electric vehicles, which it said would help right the course.

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Two years ago, climate negotiators battled over adopting language calling for an end or phase-out of unabated coal use — where emissions are not captured and stored — and instead opted for weaker “phase down” language.

Then, last year, a proposal to phase out or down all fossil fuels was made, but never was put on the agenda or officially debated.

Canada is aiming to reduce its emissions by 40 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. It is also seeking a net-zero electricity grid by 2035 and is pursuing a cap on emissions for oil and gas producers — efforts that are being fought by the energy industry and provinces that are economically dependent on the sector, like Alberta and Saskatchewan.

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Although the report doesn’t single out individual countries to assess their climate goals, Harrison said the findings underscore the need for Canada to rethink its own emissions goals.

“What this report is saying is we need to dramatically reduce global consumption of fossil fuels, and that means that there shouldn’t be a sustained market for those oil and gas exports in the first place,” she said.

Efforts like carbon capture and storage for energy producers to reduce their emissions from extracting fossil fuels “cannot be a substitute” for the continued burning of those fuels by individuals and businesses, she added.

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The report also highlights the importance of re-examining the way money flows to developing countries in desperate need of climate-related supports, as well as financial incentives for energy producers to shift to sustainable fuel alternatives.

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Earlier this month, a UN climate representative at the first-ever African Climate Summit repeated the ongoing call for richer nations to deliver on their pledge of US$100 billion annually to poorer countries to help address climate change, as well as impacts like drought.

More than US$83 billion in climate financing was given to those nations in 2020, a four-per cent increase from the previous year but still short of the goal set in 2009.

“We’ve missed our deadline and broken our promises before, and it’s going to take a lot more money,” Harrison said.

The report also called for funding to be unlocked to support low-carbon development, noting that billions of dollars were still being invested in fossil fuels. It said countries need to stop US$450 billion in annual subsidies for coal, oil and natural gas.

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The report urged countries to cut the use of “unabated” coal power by 67 to 92 per cent by 2030 versus 2019 levels and to virtually eliminate it as a source of electricity by 2050. Low and zero-carbon electricity should account for as much as 99 per cent of the global total by mid-century, it said.

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Donner said the report may prove to have “more teeth” than other similar warnings from scientists, given it was mandated by the Paris Agreement and its members.

As G20 leaders and representatives meet in New Delhi this weekend, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged them on Friday to act quickly to address a climate crisis that is “spinning out of control.”

“I have to be optimistic that this will be taken seriously,” Donner said. “This is a really scary report that says we’re not doing a good enough job, but there is action happening and it has the potential to get better.”

— with files from the Associated Press and Reuters


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