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World ‘way off track’ in halting warming, UN warns ahead of COP26

file photo: scientists from the state university of mato grosso identify signs of climate change on the border between amazonia and cerrado
An aerial view shows deforestation near a forest on the border between Amazonia and Cerrado in Nova Xavantina, Mato Grosso state, Brazil

Greenhouse gas concentrations hit a record last year and the world is “way off track” in capping rising temperatures, the United Nations said on Monday in a stark illustration of the tasks facing UN climate talks in Scotland.

A report by the U.N. World Meteorological Organization (WMO) showed carbon dioxide levels surged to 413.2 parts per million in 2020, rising more than the average rate over the last decade despite a temporary dip in emissions during COVID-19 lockdowns.

WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said the current rate of increase in heat-trapping gases would result in temperature rises “far in excess” of the 2015 Paris Agreement target of 1.5 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial average this century.

“We are way off track,” he said. “We need to revisit our industrial, energy and transport systems and whole way of life,” he added, calling for a “dramatic increase” in commitments  at the COP26 conference beginning on Sunday.

The city of Glasgow was putting on the final touches before hosting the climate talks , which may be the world’s best remaining chance to cap global warming at the 1.5-2 degrees Celsius upper limit set out in the Paris Agreement.

Under countries’ current pledges, global emissions would be 16% higher in 2030 than they were in 2010, according to a separate analysis by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

That is far off the 45% reduction by 2030 that scientists say is needed to cap warming at 1.5 degrees and avoid its most devastating impacts.

“Overshooting the temperature goals will lead to a destabilised world and endless suffering, especially among those who have contributed the least to the (greenhouse gas) emissions in the atmosphere,” said Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC.

“We are nowhere near where science says we should be,” Espinosa said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told a news conference with children the summit was going to be “very, very tough”.

“I am very worried because it might go wrong and we might not get the agreements that we need and it is touch and go, it is very, very difficult, but I think it can be done,” he said.

The German government announced Chancellor Angela Merkel will travel to Glasgow to take part. Russian President Vladimir Putin will not attend in person. He and Chinese President Xi Jinping are expected to make video appearances instead.

Britain is seeking support from major powers for a more radical plan to tackle global warming. Johnson urged Putin, for instance, to bring forward by 10 years Russia’s target for achieving net zero carbon emissions, from 2060 to 2050, Johnson’s office said on Monday.

The Kremlin said Putin promised that Russia’s delegation to Glasgow “will contribute to a successful work of such an important international forum”.

‘SOURCE OF DEEP FRUSTRATION’

The stakes for the planet are huge – among them the very survival of low-lying countries, the impact on economic livelihoods the world over and the future stability of the global financial system.

Alok Sharma, the president of COP26, said developed nations are set to be three years late meeting a pledge to commit a total of $500 billion to help poorer countries tackle climate change.

Rich nations vowed in 2009 to deliver $100 billion a year for five years, starting in 2020. But a plan on how to do so, prepared by Canada and Germany ahead of the summit, said the annual target would now not be met until 2023.

“Understandably, this has been a source of deep frustration for developing countries,” Sharma told a televised news conference.

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince launched a Middle East Green Initiative on Monday which he said aimed to invest 39 billion riyals ($10.4 billion) to reduce carbon emissions in the region and protect the environment.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said on Saturday that the world’s top oil exporter aims to reach “net zero” emissions of greenhouse gases by 2060 – 10 years later than the United States. He also said it would double the emissions cuts  it plans to achieve by 2030.

A Reuters poll of economists found that hitting the Paris goal of net-zero carbon emissions will require investments in a green transition worth 2%-3% of world output each year until 2050, far less than the economic cost of inaction.

By contrast, governments since January 2020 have spent a total of $10.8 trillion – or 10.2% of global output – in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A “business-as-usual” trajectory leading to temperature rises of 1.6C, 2.4C and 4.4C by 2030, 2050 and 2100 respectively would result in 2.4% lost output by 2030, 10% by 2050 and 18% by 2100, according to the median replies to the survey.

In London, climate activists restarted their campaign of blockading major roads by disrupting traffic in the city’s financial district, while in Madrid a few dozen people staged a sit-in protest, briefly blocking the Gran Via shopping street.

“Greenhouse gas emissions are provoking climate catastrophes all over the planet. We don’t have time. It’s already late and if we don’t join the action against what’s happening, we won’t have time to save what is still left,” said Alberto, 27, a sociologist who took part in the protest.

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