It has been a year since Cop26, where nearly every country in the world committed to reducing world fossil-fuel emissions to net zero by 2050 to limit warming to 1.5°C — the threshold needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
There were also agreements to reduce coal-fired power stations, methane emissions, reverse deforestation and land degradation, and pledge more finance to help developing countries cope with the impacts of climate change.
However, the world remains on course for around 2.5C of warming despite the promises made, with potentially lethal consequences for much of the global population, the UN has warned.
While some progress has been made, and the public’s awareness of climate issues is greater than ever, the challenges presented by the global economy and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have seen a shift in priorities for many countries.
But UN Secretary-General António Guterres, speaking in the run-up to Cop27 in Egypt, offered a grim reminder of the last year: “A third of Pakistan flooded. Europe’s hottest summer in 500 years. The Philippines hammered. The whole of Cuba in blackout. And … in the United States, Hurricane Ian has delivered a brutal reminder that no country and no economy is immune from the climate crisis.”
A total of 193 countries made climate pledges in Glasgow, but just 24 countries have submitted new or revised targets – known as “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs) – according to the UN.
Officials called for more ambitious plans to halt “the devastating consequences of runaway climate change” and warned that governments must put those plans into action immediately.
The NDCs, which account for 94.9 per cent of the planet’s total greenhouse gas emissions, show that current commitments will now increase emissions by 10.6 per cent by 2030, compared to 2010 levels.
This is an improvement over last year’s assessment, which found countries were on a path to increase emissions by 13.7 per cent by 2030.
“The downward trend in emissions expected by 2030 shows that nations have made some progress this year,” said Simon Stiell, executive secretary of UN Climate Change.
“But the science is clear and so are our climate goals under the Paris Agreement. We are still nowhere near the scale and pace of emission reductions required to put us on track toward a 1.5C world.”
At the UN’s Cop26 conference in Scotland last November, 145 countries signed up to the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration “to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030”.
Leaders representing countries that are home to 85 per cent of the planet’s forests – including Brazil – will commit to “halt and reverse” deforestation by the end of the decade.
But one year on from the summit, “not a single global indicator is on track” to meet this target, The Forest Declaration Assessment warned.
The total level of deforestation around the world amounted to 6.8 million hectares in 2021 – an area roughly the size of the Republic of Ireland.
The destruction of these forests generated 3.8 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, worsening the climate crisis, as well as impacting ecosystems and reducing biodiversity.
Franziska Haupt, managing partner at Climate Focus – one of the organisations which made up the coalition of experts who contributed to the analysis – said: “Governments and the private sector must embrace bold reforms to value standing forests in proportion to their worth.
“And they must work together with civil society to accelerate forest action, supported by transparency and accountability.”
One of the UK’s key aims for Cop26 was to try and draw a line beneath the world’s coal usage and 190 countries and organisations agreed to end coal-fired power, including major coal countries such as Poland and Vietnam. Larger players such as China, India, and Australia did not sign up to the deal.
Since Cop26, high natural gas prices and global competition for the fuel have driven more demand for coal for power generation this year as countries try to wean themselves off Russian energy supplies and seek cheaper alternatives.
Some countries are reopening mothballed coal plants to secure enough energy for this winter, while others are boosting production as they seek considerable profits from exports.
In China alone, Beijing approved 15 gigawatts of new coal-fired power capacity and another 30 million tonnes of coal-based iron-making capacity in the first half of this year.
On a brighter note, a handful of EU nations are accelerating fossil fuel phase-outs. Portugal, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Austria are hoping to reach 100 per cent clean power by the end of the decade.
Portugal also shut down its last coal-fired power plant at the end of 2021.
Almost 100 countries committed to cutting back emissions of the potent greenhouse gas methane, thought to be responsible for around a third of global average temperature rises since the industrial revolution.
The nations agreed to slash methane emissions by 30 per cent by 2030, compared to levels in 2020.
Yesterday it was reported that atmospheric levels of the three main greenhouse gases warming our planet – carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide- all reached new record highs in 2021, according to a report from the UN’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO).
“[The report] has underlined, once again, the enormous challenge – and the vital necessity – of urgent action to cut greenhouse gas emissions and prevent global temperatures from rising even further in the future,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.
Methane emissions rose by their highest-ever amount to a new record last year, according to scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Observatory (NOAA), despite governments around the world pledging urgent action and investment to protect nature and shift to more sustainable ways of farming.
For the second year in a row, NOAA scientists observed a record annual increase in atmospheric levels of methane, a powerful, heat-trapping greenhouse gas that’s the second biggest contributor to human-caused global warming after carbon dioxide.
“Our data show that global emissions continue to move in the wrong direction at a rapid pace,” said Rick Spinrad, Ph.D., NOAA Administrator. “The evidence is consistent, alarming and undeniable. We need to build a Climate Ready Nation to adapt for what’s already here and prepare for what’s to come.”
How has the UK done?
Rachel Kennerley, international climate campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “Many of the commitments made at last year’s UN climate talks have totally failed to materialise, including much of what was agreed in the Glasgow Climate Pact, which saw governments pledge to increase climate action this decade.
“While continuing to hold the COP presidency, UK climate progress has been notably absent and we’ve even seen regression in some instances.
“Despite encouraging other countries to strengthen their climate goals last year, the UK has failed to dial up its own ambition. To make matters worse the government hasn’t fulfilled its obligation to pay its fair share towards helping the countries most impacted by climate change.”