CLIMATEWIRE | When global leaders meet later this year to negotiate climate action, the urgency to cut planet-warming emissions will be starker than ever before.
The world now needs to cut emissions by 60 percent by 2035 — compared with 2019 levels — to avoid increasingly severe heat, flooding, drought and extreme weather that will make parts of the world unlivable. That’s a key conclusion of the latest assessment from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is made up of the world’s leading climate scientists.
That target exceeds the 43 percent reduction by 2030 that countries have been shooting for — and negotiating over during the annual U.N. climate talks known as COPs. It also emphasizes the need for radical action at a time when countries are already failing to meet their pledged emission reductions.
“It’s very clear that countries will really need to step up the direction of travel. That’s true for 2030. But 2035 puts a finer point on it,” said David Waskow, director of the international climate initiative at the World Resources Institute.
The need for far greater action is likely to hang over delegates when they meet for COP 28 in late November in the United Arab Emirates. The climate talks are where countries will evaluate their progress — or the lack of it — toward achieving their 2030 climate targets, a process known as the global stocktake.
How countries respond to that assessment will determine if they can limit global temperature rise to the 1.5 degree Celsius target of the Paris Agreement and zero out emissions by 2050. And having clear deadlines for 2030 and 2035 will be critical, Waskow said.
So far the signs are not promising.
Even as the science has grown more convincing, few countries, including the United States, have measures in place that would get them to the 43 percent cut in emissions needed by 2030 — let alone 60 percent just five years later (Climatewire, March 21).
A U.N. report last year found that global temperatures are set to rise 2.8 C under countries’ current policies.
To provoke more action, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres demanded earlier this week that rich nations reach net-zero emissions by 2040, 10 years earlier than the target set by most developed countries (Greenwire, March 20).
But that call is not enforceable. It also hasn’t generated much response, aside from a recent comment by Dan Jørgensen, Denmark’s climate minister, that the European Union may exceed its pledge to cut emissions 55 percent by 2030.
Jørgensen spoke at a news conference as he hosted a meeting with dozens of climate officials to map out the agenda for COP 28. Observers say the timing of the IPCC report may have prompted those officials to think about what climate action countries need to deliver.
“The question is whether the political system responds in the way we need it to, with people rolling up their sleeves and saying how can we all work together to counter this common threat,” said Alden Meyer, a senior associate at E3G.
One major challenge: Many countries — including the host of this year’s climate talks — still get a failing grade by climate monitors.
Climate Action Tracker, an independent analysis of climate policy, expects the UAE’s emissions to grow by 2030 due to plans to increase gas use. The country’s current climate targets would see emissions flatten but not fall, when they need to be slashed nearly in half.
“Ideally the UAE would take leadership on this as the COP28 host and put forward a target that supports this — coupled with further reductions to 2035 and beyond,” Mia Moisio, who monitors the Middle East for Climate Action Tracker, said in an email.
The UAE depends heavily on its oil and gas sector. But the country has made considerable efforts to diversify its economy and could potentially show the way to other oil- and gas-producing nations, Moisio added.
“Addressing these issues and agreeing on a global fossil fuel phase out at COP28 would be a major step forward,” she said.
‘We’re not done in 2030’
The IPCC’s latest climate assessment is not just focused on the need to drastically reduce emissions. It also points out the need for more equity between rich and poor countries, the importance of investing in resilience, and the availability of many of the tools needed to stop the planet from overheating.
But the report’s main conclusion emphasizes the message that emissions just aren’t falling fast enough. The 2035 emissions reduction target drives that message home — an intentional move by the report’s authors.
The finding that the world needs to cut emissions by 60 percent by 2035 showed up in another IPCC report last year. But it only landed in this week’s climate assessment after much wrangling, according to a summary of the session by the Earth Negotiations Bulletin, which reported that China initially wanted to delete the 2035 projection but agreed to include it in the form of a table.
“Given our assessment of relevant information and also hearing the interests of country representatives, we thought it would be useful to add these numbers explicitly in the report,” Detlef Van Vuuren, a professor at Utrecht University and an author of the IPCC assessment, wrote in an email. “Hopefully, the number will be able to guide governments in further decision-making.”
In 2025, countries will need to set new climate targets known as nationally determined contributions. But there won’t be another IPCC report until 2029, so this week’s assessment was the last chance scientists had to showcase how much faster countries need to slash their climate pollution.
“The important thing to remember here is how far off track we are. Emissions are still rising,” said Rachel Cleetus, climate and energy director at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
“We’re not done in 2030,” she added. “This is going to be the job of the next decades.”
That doesn’t mean the next seven years aren’t still vital, experts say. That’s when the most urgent and radical shifts are needed to keep the world from overshooting the Paris Agreement target of 1.5 C.
But 2035 puts a spotlight on whether countries are thinking beyond this decade about the deep transformations needed to get them to net-zero emissions by midcentury.
“We always knew that the path to net zero would get steeper over time, and that’s reflective of the fact that we haven’t done a great job of reducing emissions to date,” said Kate Larsen, a partner at Rhodium Group.
“We also know that what we need to do to get to net zero was always really focused on making a lot of progress in this decade,” she added.
That means starting with where cuts are easiest, such as in the electric power sector. But it also means laying the groundwork for the emissions reductions that will be needed post-2030. Those efforts include investing in the low-carbon fuels and technologies for sectors that are hard to decarbonize, like heavy industry and aviation. It also means investing in research that would help reduce emissions from agriculture.
“Unless we start making significant emission reductions in the next few years … the amount of effort the world will need to put in to get to net zero will keep increasing over time,” Larsen said.
The challenge, she said, will be getting countries to step up and take on an even more ambitious target when they’re struggling to meet the one that they already have.
Overshooting the 1.5 C threshold — even temporarily — would have severe consequences for many of the world’s most vulnerable people. But the report stresses the need to continue pushing for steep cuts even if the Paris goal is breached.
“To meet the commitments by 2030, 2035, 2050 will be enormously challenging. To not meet those commitments will cause even bigger challenges for humanity,” said Max Holmes, president of the Woodwell Climate Research Center.
That means finding a balance between competition and collaboration that can help the world meet its climate goals at a time of growing divisions.
“We need to be prepared to work really hard, to really think radically, but with a lot of respect and still humility in engaging with each other,” said Yamide Dagnet, director of climate justice at the Open Society Foundations and a former climate negotiator.
“And I think there needs to be a lot of signals before the COP, during the COP and then, of course, to sustain them after. It’s very important that we do not see this COP as a final point,” she said.
Reporter Chelsea Harvey contributed.
Reprinted from E&E News with permission from POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2023. E&E News provides essential news for energy and environment professionals.