In particular, the UN stressed that a commitment to cutting emissions is no longer an option, but an inevitable trend globally.
In his opening remarks at the virtual summit, UN Secretary-General António Guterres underscored the undeniable fact that the world is facing a dramatic emergency on climate, calling on countries to “declare a state of climate emergency” to promote effective actions towards containing global warming and preventing it from causing catastrophic consequences.
The summit was held five years since the Paris Agreement on climate change was adopted by more than 190 countries, creating an important turning point for the world to build a greener, cleaner and more sustainable future. However, according to a UN report released ahead of the conference, most of the current commitments to emission reduction are not strong enough to effectively respond to the rising global heat. Signatories to the Paris climate accord have pledged actions to limit global temperature increase to well below 2 degrees Celsius compared to the pre-industrial level, towards limiting temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius. However, the UN report pointed out that even if countries implement their commitments to cutting emissions, it is still unlikely to help reverse the global temperature rise trend at a “catastrophic” level of 3 degrees Celsius in the 21 st century. This situation will lead to a much more serious crisis than the current COVID-19 pandemic.
The warning of danger from the UN is quite comprehensible. After five years of the implementation of the Paris Agreement, many commitments to reduce emissions have been made, but have proved to be not strong and effective enough. Carbon pollution remains serious, with global temperatures hitting record highs in November, making it the hottest month in history. The Earth’s temperature rises has seen the emergence of unprecedented and extreme weather patterns across all regions with an increasing frequency. 2020 has seen fierce wildfires in the US and Australia, as well as a record number of storms forming in the Atlantic Ocean.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres speaks during the virtual Climate Ambition Summit 2020.
The Paris Agreement stipulates that participating countries must increase their commitments to reducing emissions every five years, also known as the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). The deadline for the first five years is this December 31, but only less than 20 countries in the group, accounting for about 5% of global emissions, have so far announced their new NDC plans. A positive point in 2020 is that many major economies have committed to achieving “carbon neutrality” with a clear roadmap. Up to now, more than 110 countries and territories have pledged “net-zero” greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, with 77 countries, 10 territories and 100 cities promising to complete the target by 2050. China, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, hopes to reach “carbon neutrality” by 2060, while the European Union (EU) is committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030 compared to the 1990 level. However, in addition to the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, there are still a number of major economies that have not made “carbon neutrality” commitments or set their goals too low or over too long a period, contributing inadequately to the overall efforts against climate change.
The UN estimates that in order to achieve the goal of limitting global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius, the world will need to reduce 7.6% of its emissions annually in the next decade. The raging COVID-19 pandemic has paralysed economic activities, helping the world meet the target of cutting global emissions by 7% in 2020. However, increased spending on economic recovery packages aimed at fossil fuel-dependent areas will quickly reverse the aforementioned positive trend. The UN stressed that the post-pandemic recovery process must be utilised to accelerate the transition to the low-carbon economy. Without proper policies and efficient use of resources, economic recovery packages worth trillions of dollars will burden future generations.
The Paris Agreement on climate change shows the world’s solidarity for the common goal of preventing global warming. To realise the goals of the agreement, major changes are needed, from how natural resources and technology are used to the issuance of general policies and collective efforts to tackle the climate change problem.