Merlin Hyman, chief executive at Regen, unpacks what the climate pledges made around Earth Day 2021 mean for progress towards global emissions reductions and avoiding climate chaos.
The major new commitments being made to cutting emissions on Earth Day prompt the obvious question: are the pledges putting us on track to avoid climate chaos?
In 2019, global greenhouse gas emissions reached a new high of 59.1 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e).
The 2020 UNEP Emissions Gap Report was a wake-up call, concluding that national commitments to cut emissions (NDCs) are ‘woefully inadequate’, essentially leaving emissions at current levels and putting the world on track for over 3°C temperature rise.
Limiting global temperature rise to 2°C requires us to reduce emissions to 40-45 GtCO2e by 2030. 1.5°C means emissions more than halving to around 25 GtCO2e.
The US pledge will cut emissions in 2030 by about 3.5 GtCO2e. A quick review (and assuming the Chinese increase their ambition) suggests that by COP26 in Glasgow we might hope for pledges amounting to about 8 GtCO2e reduction by 2030.
So vital progress this week, but the global gap between climate action and climate reality remains daunting. As the UN report put it, “it is not too late to act. We have the knowledge, technology and opportunity in pandemic recovery to take a huge leap forward and begin closing the gap”.