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Countries vowed to ramp up climate pledges in 2022. Very few have. – The Washington Post

Last fall, at a high-profile global climate summit in Scotland, the countries of the world embraced what seemed like a significant commitment in the quest to combat climate change.

Acknowledging that progress had been too slow, leaders agreed to “revisit and strengthen” their national climate targets if possible over the coming year — rather than waiting every five years, as envisioned under the 2015 Paris climate accord.

Global greenhouse gas emissions

Note: Greenhouse gas emissions are expressed in carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2e, to normalize gases based on their warming potential over 100 years.

The push came as part of the effort to hold average global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, compared with preindustrial levels — a key threshold past which scientists have said disastrous impacts become far more likely.

But as the world prepares to reconvene in Egypt this month for COP27, the annual U.N. climate change conference, almost none of the globe’s biggest emitters have come forward with stronger commitments. Few nations overall have ramped up their ambition, despite another year of floods, fires and other climate-related catastrophes.

“Disappointing,” is how Claire Fyson, co-head of the climate policy team at the nonprofit research group Climate Analytics, describes the lackluster reality. “Few governments have really done anything to substantially move the dial.”

According to the independent Climate Action Tracker, as of Thursday only 21 countries have submitted updated national climate commitments as leaders are set to gather at the summit, which starts Nov. 6 in Egypt — and not even all those newer plans contain more ambitious goals. Meanwhile, another 172 countries have not updated their targets, the group said.

Only one large country so far has filed a plan that includes stronger, credible emissions-cutting commitments: Australia.

“But Australia came from a very, very low baseline,” said Niklas Höhne, a German climatologist who created the Climate Action Tracker. “They have a lot of catching up to do.”

In short, the momentum that emerged at last fall’s summit in Scotland has stalled, as other crises such as the war in Ukraine and rising inflation and energy costs have demanded the attention of world leaders.

Projected greenhouse gas emissions in 2030
Required
Total Per person Pledged Required for 1.5°C
China

megatons CO2e

tons CO2e

megatons CO2e

megatons CO2e

U.S.
India
E.U.
Russia
Indonesia
Brazil
Iran
Japan
Mexico

The news isn’t all bad.

Earlier this year, the United States passed the Inflation Reduction Act, a major piece of legislation that includes $369 billion in funding related to the climate and energy issues. As a result, U.S. emissions are projected to drop sharply over the coming decade.

Even so, the new legislation alone will not be enough to meet the Biden administration’s pledge to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by at least half by 2030, when compared with 2005 levels. And the pledge is itself insufficient to help hold global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, according to the Climate Action Tracker.

Past and projected greenhouse gas emissions for the United States

How the United States compares to countries with similar emissions

Meanwhile, Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine could prompt the European Union to accelerate its transition toward renewables and away from the fossil fuel-producing countries it has long relied upon for energy.

In a report last week, the Paris-based International Energy Agency found that the invasion, in part, could lead global demand for fossil fuels to peak beginning later this decade.

At the same time, there has been increased focus this year on efforts to ensure that the world’s wealthy nations — and its largest emitters — live up to promises to help smaller, more vulnerable countries deal with the impacts of climate change and build cleaner infrastructure as they grow.

“It’s not all doom and gloom, but it’s definitely not moving fast enough,” Fyson said.

Earth already has warmed at least 1.1. degrees Celsius on average, and many places have warmed by at least 2 degrees (3.6 Fahrenheit) or more.

Earlier this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that at the current rate of emissions, the world could blaze past the crucial 1.5 degrees Celsius target in less than a decade. And while it’s still technically possible to reverse course, hitting goals that leaders have set “cannot be achieved through incremental change.”

With its current policies, China is projected to meet its pledge by 2030. The pledge is not consistent with limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

How China compares to countries with similar emissions

And yet, another year has passed with few signs of the transformational changes needed to bend the world’s current trajectory toward a more sustainable future.

Not only are existing pledges not bold enough to put humanity on track to hit the most lofty goals of the Paris climate accord, but current policies in place in many countries also remain inconsistent with their public pledges to do more.

“There’s still a huge gap left,” Höhne said. “And the targets are still insufficient.”

That sentiment is in line with the findings not only of the Climate Action Tracker, but also of the United Nations itself.

In an annual report published last week, the organization found that despite lofty vows from world leaders, existing climate pledges put the Earth on track to warm by a troubling 2.4 degrees Celsius (4.3 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century. And few countries have undertaken policies necessary to meet even those inadequate targets, the report said.

“Global and national climate commitments are falling pitifully short,” U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said of the findings. “We must close the emissions gap before climate catastrophe closes in on us all.”

Given all that is at stake, and all the suffering that scientists say lies ahead without rapid and far-reaching changes, it seems logical that governments around the planet would act with more urgency and cooperation despite the competing demands of other crises, Höhne said.

“I’ve worked on this for 35 years now,” he said, “and I don’t understand why it doesn’t happen.”

Signs of progress over the past year have moved the world away from the more catastrophic pathways it was on only a few years ago. But as COP27 begins, data show humanity remains on a perilous path.

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.

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