Countries are coming together this weekend to ramp up plans to cut their carbon emissions, following recent revelations that the world is still on course for a catastrophic 3C of global warming.
Five years after the Paris Agreement, a virtual summit co-hosted by the UK, France and the United Nations will see decision-makers outline new efforts to try to limit warming to between 1.5C and 2C.
But what is at stake and have we left it too late? Here are some of the key questions answered.
– Where did it start?
The Paris Agreement, thrashed out in December 2015, was the first comprehensive global treaty on climate change committing countries to cutting emissions.
Countries agreed to take steps to limit temperature rises to “well below” 2C above pre-industrial levels, with ambition to keep them as close to 1.5C as possible.
A report this week from the UN revealed 3C of warming could well become a reality by the end of the century on the Earth’s current trajectory.
But it found a green recovery from the pandemic through initiatives including new renewable energy, low-carbon transport and large-scale reforestation projects could cut 25% off emissions by 2030.
– Is hitting 3C really so bad?
A world that is 3C hotter would be unrecognisable.
According to a 2018 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), even a 2C rise would lead to more heatwaves, extreme rainstorms, water shortages and drought.
It would lead to far greater economic losses, lower crop yields, higher sea levels and greater damage to coral reefs than a 1.5C rise, the report said.
If we get to 3C, entire ecosystems would be wiped out, it would spell the end of the coral reefs, sea level rises could reach 2m and millions of people in coastal communities would be displaced, the report said.
– What is this weekend’s summit all about?
The heat is on, so to say, for governments around the world to ratchet up their commitments to slash their carbon emissions and save the planet from the worst scenarios predicted by scientists.
The Climate Ambition Summit will see countries lay out their stall as to what they are doing to meet their Paris Agreement commitments, and how they plan to accelerate their actions in future.
Each nation has to set out their plans under the three pillars of the Paris Agreement – mitigation, adaption and finance – and “there will be no space for general statements”, the organisers said.
– An “ambition” summit sounds a bit vague
The UK had been due to host the next round of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as Cop26, this year, but it was postponed until next November due to the pandemic.
A five-year review and ratchet mechanism to increase ambition was included in the Paris Agreement, with countries due to submit new or updated climate plans in 2020.
In the absence of full talks, the online summit is supposed to keep the pressure on countries to announce more ambitious carbon-cutting targets.
It is hoped dramatic plans from the world’s largest economies will provide global leadership and send a signal that will inspire other countries to follow suit.
– Are we making progress?
This week, the UK declared targets to cut emissions by 68% by 2030 from 1990’s levels, something it was obliged to do individually after leaving the EU which had been negotiating as a whole.
We've just awarded funding to 68 projects across the country to restore nature and tackle climate change!
— Defra UK (@DefraGovUK) December 10, 2020
Its nationally determined contributions (NDCs) targets are currently higher than the EU’s, which this week agreed to 55% emission cuts by 2030.
But globally, we are not going far enough or fast enough.
Emission cuts need to be tripled by 2030 compared with the original Paris Agreement pledges to put us on track to meet 2C, and increased fivefold to met 1.5C, the UN has warned.
– Which countries are making big promises?
In the past two years, some big numbers have been announced – both the UK and the EU have pledged to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.
In October China, the word’s biggest polluter, pledged to reach net-zero by 2060 and while questions remain, it has been hailed as a potential game changer by many.
Donald Trump pulled the US out of the Paris Agreement, but President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to rejoin on day one of his presidency in January.
Mr Biden has also committed to cutting US emissions to net-zero by 2050, meaning that when he takes office, all the G7 group of leading economies will have net-zero targets for mid-century.
– Who is lagging behind?
Among those dragging their feet is Russia – even though it has an apparently ambitious target of cutting emissions to 70% of 1990 levels by 2030.
Campaigners warn that due to the fact its pollution is now lower than it was in 1990 due to the collapse of the Soviet Union and its industry, its target will still allow emissions to rise.
Elsewhere, Australia, which has been hit by devastating climate-linked wildfires in the past year, has shown no moves to increase its climate ambitions, despite domestic pressure on the government to do so.