Countries will have to start delivering on emissions-reduction targets during the 2020s, rather than later, to avoid devastation from climate change, the British president of the upcoming COP26 climate summit said on Wednesday.
Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, nations committed to a long-term goal of limiting average temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit it even further to 1.5C. This would require countries to reach net zero emissions by 2050.
Countries representing around 70% of global emissions so far have announced their own national net zero targets to be achieved by 2050 or 2060.
But Alok Sharma, UK president for COP26, the next global climate change conference to be held in Scotland this November, said emissions will have to be cut more drastically already in this decade to avoid disaster further down the road.
“We are (now) heading for an over 3 degrees temperature rise (this century) which will cause devastation for each and every country, and will be the catalyst for an apocalyptic future,” he told a virtual conference hosted by the International Energy Agency, an energy policy advisory and watchdog group.
“We cannot afford another decade of deliberation. This needs to be the decade of delivery” for major emissions cuts and financing to make this possible, he said.
“We need countries to set dates for zero emissions vehicle sales (for example). And countries must honour their commitment for $100 billion a year for climate finance. Without adequate finance (now) the task ahead is nigh-on impossible.”
Sharma said essential emissions reductions would entail rapid, structural change across the entire global economy as well as collaboration on climate finance for impoverished developing countries, deforestation and transport.
Major obstacles to such change, however, were underlined in a joint report by the United Nations and research groups last year that said the world now plans to produce more than double the amount of coal, oil and gas in 2030 than would be consistent with curbing global warming under the Paris accord.
The United States, the world’s second biggest carbon emitter after China, rejoined the Paris Agreement after President Joe Biden took office in January, and his administration wants to lock in drastic emissions cuts over the next three decades.
John Kerry, the U.S. presidential special envoy for climate, told the conference that even if the world did everything pledged under the Paris accord, the average global temperature would still rise to around 3.7 degrees Celsius this century.
“Everyone needs to be part of this as we don’t want the developing world making the same mistakes as we (developed countries) did from the 1800s,” he said.
“We can’t willy nilly ignore the next 10 years. If we don’t do enough in the next 10 years we cannot keep the Earth’s (average) temperature to 1.5C,” he added.