For the first time since the landmark Paris Agreement was signed, the United Nations has published an analysis of the world’s progress in cutting global greenhouse gas emissions and finds that although the window for action is quickly closing, solutions are well within reach.
Called a “global stocktake,” the study published Friday sets the stage for vital international climate change negotiations set to play out through the rest of the year. The stocktake comprehensively details what is at stake and what needs to be done to avert the worst consequences of an overheating planet.
Everything is at risk. A stable climate over thousands of years is what allowed human civilization to flourish, but since the advent of burning fossil fuels to power economies, humans have destabilized the planet’s ecosystems and are pushing it into unprecedented territory, leading to a mass extinction not seen since the age of dinosaurs.
“There is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future for all,” the report reads. “Climate impacts are eroding past human development gains and, without sufficient adaptation action, will impede the ability to make such gains in the future.”
The report touches on many well-understood facts of the climate crisis. Renewable energy must be dramatically scaled up, unabated fossil fuels must be phased out (referring to fossil fuels without significant emission reductions using carbon capture or other technologies), more effort is needed to adapt to global warming already locked in, and trillions of dollars will need to be spent to finance the steps required to hold global warming to 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels — the goal of the Paris Agreement signed in 2015.
“I urge governments to carefully study the findings of the report and ultimately understand what it means for them and the ambitious action they must take next. It’s the same for businesses, communities and other key stakeholders," Simon Stiell, executive secretary of UN Climate Change, said in a statement. "While the catalytic role of the Paris Agreement and the multilateral process will remain vital in the coming years, the global stocktake is a critical moment for greater ambition and accelerating action.”
The global stocktake is meant to be “a reality check” and an opportunity for countries to increase their climate ambition, Catherine Abreu, founder of Destination Zero and a member of Canada’s Net-Zero Advisory Body, told Canada’s National Observer.
“Countries are meant to take this report and use it to inform an adjustment to their [nationally determined contributions, or NDCs],” she said. NDCs are the pledges countries make to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Canada’s current commitment is 40 to 45 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, and net-zero by 2050. Some estimates put Canada’s fair share at a 60 per cent reduction of domestic emissions by 2030.
“So the question is, for every country including Canada, how are we planning to do that?” she asked. “How are we planning to take the lessons from this reality check and use them to improve the commitments that we've made under the Paris Agreement?”
A new UN report detailing the world's climate progress shows there's still time to address disastrous global warming, but window to act is "rapidly closing." #GlobalStocktake
Abreu said the report is also a reminder for Canada that a just transition to a clean economy requires phasing out fossil fuels.
Earlier this year, the Liberals’ sustainable jobs legislation (the less politically charged name for a proposed law aimed at ensuring a just transition for workers) was introduced in the House of Commons. But Abreu notes that proposed legislation lacks specific transition plans for different sectors of the economy or clear links to achieving net zero, where any greenhouse gas emissions are offset by nature or pollution-capturing technology.
“We're getting a pretty clear message from this moment of reckoning for progress toward Paris Agreement goals that any moves toward a just transition, in order to achieve net-zero goals, hinges on an orderly phaseout of all fossil fuels,” she said.
The global stocktake report urges a “radical decarbonization,” which for David Suzuki Foundation climate solutions director Sabaa Khan means Canada must move quickly to cap oil and gas sector emissions.
“The Canadian fossil fuel industry is pushing carbon capture, but the UN warns that the geophysical, environmental-ecological, economic, technological, sociocultural and institutional challenges of carbon capture remain unresolved,” she said in a statement. “Rather than risking our future on expensive, unproven technologies, we need to stop fossil fuel expansion and make way for long-term climate solutions.”
The global stocktake report comes as the G20 is set to begin in New Delhi, India. Leaders from 20 of the world’s largest economies are gathering to discuss a wide range of topics, with climate and energy at the top of the agenda.
The G20 is an important forum for climate action as the UN’s annual climate conference draws closer because it is a collection of major economies from both developed and developing countries, unlike the G7, which is essentially a group of rich, allied countries. The G20, which is responsible for 80 per cent of the world’s emissions, includes the United States, China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, the U.K., France, Canada and others, and typically reveals disagreements over the best path forward.
When G20 environment ministers met earlier in the summer, they couldn’t agree on ways to address the climate crisis, unlike a G7 meeting in the spring. But finding common ground between developed and developing countries is widely seen as a necessary step to making progress at the UN’s COP28 climate conference in Dubai later this year, where the world’s countries will gather to negotiate renewable energy targets, phasing out fossil fuels and the finance required to meet those goals.