Climate change is this ongoing problem that the media and governments around the world continue to raise, including how it impacts on the fossil fuel industry, extreme weather events and climate related impacts, and in some circumstances whether or not it’s even happening, but we will leave that one for the oil and gas funded sceptics and conspiracy theorists.
One of the major issues often raised, concerns the efforts that have been made by countries around the world to address the problem. We hear this around emissions reduction targets, renewable energy targets and a range of other goals and targets that are put in place by governments and politicians and more often than not, criticised by the public. It’s never enough.
When the historic Paris climate agreement was entered into in 2015, all the countries of the world agreed on a system that has become known as the ‘ratchet mechanism’. This system requires countries to gradually increase their efforts to address climate change, over time. This is a system intended to work on five years cycles, where countries come back to UN Climate Change with new or updated proposals which show how they will increase their ambition. This could be an increase in the form of higher emissions reductions targets or more finance.
And a lot more needs to be done!
In the initial round of commitments and contributions that were being made by countries around the time of the Paris agreement, it was reported that ambition was woefully inadequate. These reports came from deep analyses of all of the proposals that were being put forward by countries known as their ‘Nationally Determined Contribution’, otherwise known in UN lingo as NDCs. Analyses undertaken by organisations such as Climate Action Tracker, UN Environment and others showed that and the world is expected to warm by more than 3°Celsius within the century.
Now, what would a 3° warmer world look like?
In this version of a ‘new normal’, the experience of the 2020 Covid 19 pandemic will seem like a walk in the park. There will be no ‘green recovery’ or recovery of any other colour, and there will be nothing really to ‘build back better’ from. More heatwaves in Australia would go for weeks, above 35 degrees, and tropical disease would spread further, north and south of the equator. Entire Pacific Island Nations would be lost under a rising ocean, with devastated coastal communities, including towns and cities all over the planet. Refugees would be on the increase as people become displaced and tropical forests such as those in South America and Indonesia would dry out and burn. These are just some of the projections we are confronted with.
Now, here we are five long years after the Paris agreement was entered into. In 2015 it was agreed that in 2020 countries would come forward with new proposals and update their current proposals to show that they are doing more to remedy the huge gap that exists and hopefully divert the world away from the incoming catastrophic 3° of warming.
And now that we have reached that point in time, one has to question whether some countries are taking the process seriously.
For example, in December 2020 an updated NDC was submitted by Brazil, the six largest global greenhouse gas polluter. This NDC fails to increase ambition and in fact goes backwards by allowing higher emissions associated with currently high levels of deforestation. Brazil’s updated NDC also lacks any clarity as to whether its implementation will be funded by Brazil itself or be contingent on non-existent international support. In addition, Indonesia also in the top ten global emitters, provided an updated NDC around the same time. Indonesia’s updated NDC also does not increase ambition. Their targets for emissions reductions remain the same whilst the country argues that putting in place measures to implement the first NDC is in fact their way of increasing ambition and not back sliding.
And developed countries aren’t doing much better either. They’re hiding their emissions through greenhouse gas accounting trickery, and are supposed to be providing financial support for all this. In 2009 (yes, more than a decade ago) it was agreed that by 2020 there would be US$100 billion going into climate change each year by 2020, and guess what? It isn’t. The most they seem to be able to muster up for the world largest climate fund is only around a couple of billion per year. Let’s not mention the US$ 1.8 trillion global military spending at this point.
A reality check came in in February 2021 when a report was released by UN Climate Change, which looked at 48 new or updated NDCs across 75 countries, submitted by the end of 2020. The report shows that the current levels of climate ambition are well off track in terms of achieving the Paris agreement goals. In other words, global temperature increase is likely to exceed 2°, and we remain on that 3 degree trajectory. This has prompted the Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change, Patricia Espinoza, to call on all countries to accelerate climate action everywhere urgently and immediately, but I seriously doubt they will listen.