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World way off track on Paris accord goals

Dave Keating
October 31, 2017

Existing national goals will only meet one-third of the Paris climate target, according to a UN report. The study comes less than a week before the world climate conference kicks off in Bonn.

Sunset over coal plant in Germany
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/J. Stratenschulte

As the United Nations prepares to welcome delegates from across the world to Bonn on Monday for the two-week COP23 climate summit, it released a stark warning today.

The national pledges currently on the table by the signatory countries will only bring a third of the reduction in emissions required by 2030 to meet global climate targets.

The biggest roadblock is not with national governments, says the United Nations Environment Program report. Rather, the private sector and regional governments aren't increasing their climate action at a rate that would help close this gap.

The Paris goal is to limit global warming to at least under 2 degrees Celsius — and to 1.5 degrees if possible — in order to avoid catastrophic climate change.

Infographic Emissions Gap

But as things stand, even full implementation of national reduction targets would still mean a temperature increase of 3 degrees by 2100. The reality could be even bleaker given this analysis doesn't take into account the United States' intention to pull out of the agreement.

"This is unacceptable," Erik Solheim, head of the UNEP, said. "One year after the Paris Agreement entered into force, we still find ourselves in a situation where we are not doing nearly enough to save hundreds of millions of people from a miserable future."

Highest CO2 in 800,000 years

This bleak assessment comes a day after the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) released a report finding that concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere surged at record-breaking speed last year, to the highest level in 800,000 years.

Globally averaged concentrations of CO2 hit 403.3 parts per million in 2016, compared to 400 parts per million in 2015, according to the WMO's Greenhouse Gas Bulletin.

Infographic when will CO2 emissions peak

The news could start the Bonn talks off on a downbeat note. However the UN report says simple steps can be taken to quickly ratchet up climate ambition.

For instance, investing in technology could reduce emissions by up to 30 to 40 gigatons of CO2 equivalent (GtCO2e) per year at a cost of 100 dollars per ton.

The lowest-hanging fruit is in agriculture, buildings, energy, forestry, industry and transport, the UN says. Technology investments in these sectors — at an investment cost of under $100 per ton of CO2 avoided — could save up to 36 GtCO2e per year by 2030. This would put the world on track to meet the 2-degree goal.

In addition, more action pledges by non-state actors and regional governments could make a big difference, reducing the 2030 emissions gap by a few GtCO2e.

Avoiding new coal-fired power plants and accelerated phasing out of existing plants would also help.

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