What is the world doing about climate change?
Motorists drive on a road as wildfire burns in North Indralaya, Ogan Ilir regency, South Sumatra province, Indonesia, September 14, 2023. Antara Foto/Nova Wahyudi/ via REUTERS
What’s the context?
As COP28 kicks off in Dubai, global leaders will have to strike an ambitious deal to keep Paris Agreement emissions goals in reach
- COP28 starts in Dubai, in the UAE, on Thursday
- UN talks to assess progress on global climate plans
- Paris Agreement goals need faster emissions cuts
LONDON - World leaders gathering in Dubai this week for the U.N.'s COP28 climate conference are under pressure to ramp up action to tackle climate change and slash planet-heating emissions following a year of record temperatures.
The world is on track to warm by nearly 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times, according to a new U.N. analysis, shooting far past the Paris Agreement target to limit global warming to "well below" 2C (3.6 F) and stem the most devastating impacts for people and nature.
"The emissions gap is more like an emissions canyon," U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said last week as the report was released ahead of COP28, where nearly 200 nations are tasked with assessing global progress and raising ambition on climate action.
Climate change, combined with this year's El Nino weather pattern, means that 2023 will be the warmest year since records began in 1940, according to the European Union's Copernicus Climate Change Service.
Here's what you need to know about global efforts to tackle climate change.
What are countries doing about climate change?
Adopted in 2015, the Paris Agreement gave countries a goal: to limit global average temperature rise to "well below" 2C above pre-industrial times while "pursuing efforts" for a tougher ceiling of 1.5C (2.7F).
Since then, that agreement has spurred "near-universal" action, said a recent U.N. climate progress assessment called the Global Stocktake, while warning that more effort was needed "on all fronts".
Renewable energy such as wind and solar has developed rapidly, for example, and is expected to become the largest source of global electricity generation by 2025, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).
But a series of global scientific reports have said countries must strengthen their plans and implement them more quickly, especially to phase out the extraction and use of fossil fuels - coal, oil and natural gas.
Despite the urgency, countries have missed U.N. deadlines to submit updated climate plans under the Paris Agreement more than half the time, found the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), a think-tank.
Has there been progress?
Yes. Future temperature rises are expected to be less extreme thanks to government commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions - providing they are implemented - according to the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
In 2010, global temperature increases were projected to be between 3.7C and 4.8C in 2100, compared to pre-industrial times, but last year's forecasts for that range were down to between 2.4C and 2.6C from pledges made before the COP27 summit in Egypt, the IPCC found.
This, however, is still well above the 1.5C target that scientists say is a crucial point when impacts like heatwaves, droughts and flooding become ever more frequent and severe.
The IPCC says meeting the 1.5C goal would require cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 43% by 2030 from 2019 levels.
Energy-related emissions of carbon dioxide, the main man-made greenhouse gas, rose to a record high in 2022, according to the IEA.
To get climate action on track will require a dramatic acceleration, from halting deforestation to transforming the ways humans travel, work and eat - such as reducing high-polluting plane journeys and meat consumption, experts say.
Is extreme weather normal now?
Scientists are becoming increasingly adept at joining the dots between extreme weather events and climate change.
Record heat in Europe and North America in July 2023, for example, would have been "virtually impossible" without climate change, according to World Weather Attribution, an international group of scientists.
The same group said Libya's heavy rainfall in September, which triggered deadly floods, was up to 50 times more likely due to human-caused warming.
A U.N. report said in November that the gap between the financial needs of vulnerable people to adapt to ever more extreme heat, floods, storms and wildfires and the available funding to do that was 50% wider than estimated just a year ago.
It calculated annual adaptation costs and needs at $215 billion to $387 billion a year up to 2030 - 10 to 18 times more than the $21 billion provided in 2021.
Will we ever solve the climate crisis?
The window of opportunity is narrowing to cut greenhouse gas emissions fast enough to slow the planet's warming and stay within the 1.5C limit, scientists and U.N. officials say.
Breaching it could lead to a range of dangerous "tipping points" - or points of no return - such as the collapse of ice sheets in Greenland or Antarctica which could turbo-charge sea-level rise, or the mass death of tropical coral reefs in warming oceans.
But there are positive tipping points, too.
Electric vehicle sales could soon surge as prices fall to near parity with fossil-fuel vehicles, for example.
Given the right protection, forests, peatlands and other ecosystems can thrive - capturing and absorbing human-caused carbon dioxide emissions.
Solutions to the climate crisis already exist, but they require unprecedented changes at a new scale and pace across societies, the IPCC says.
And even if global warming does exceed 1.5C in the coming years, it adds, every fraction of a degree matters to limit the harm to people and the planet - and to make it easier to pull temperatures back down to safer levels when the time comes.
This article was updated on Nov. 29, 2023, at 8:58 GMT ahead of the start of the COP28 climate talks.
Reporting by Jack Graham; Editing by Alister Doyle and Megan Rowling.
Part of:COP28: What’s ahead for climate change action?
Updated: November 28, 2023
- Extreme weather
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- Climate finance
- Climate policy
- Loss and damage
- Climate solutions