The world’s first climate change report card is in

Image: Hugo Herrera / The Verge

The nations of the world have to seriously ramp up their clean energy ambitions because time is running out to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement, a sweeping new United Nations report card says.

It’s the first “Global Stocktake” of the progress nearly 200 countries have made since they adopted the Paris agreement in 2015. By pushing nations to slash their greenhouse gas emissions, the global accord strives to avoid climate change so extreme that life on Earth would struggle to adapt.

The planet has gotten about 1.2 degrees Celsius hotter since the Industrial Revolution, and that’s already been enough to cause more extreme weather, intensify wildfires, and raise sea levels high enough to push coastal communities away from their homes. To keep those kinds of disasters from getting much worse, the Paris agreement seeks to limit warming to around 1.5 degrees Celsius. The world doesn’t have much wiggle room left.

Since they adopted the Paris agreement, the report says, countries have taken enough action to slow global warming a bit. In other words, things could be much worse than they already are. But there’s much more work that needs to be done. Each year, greenhouse gas pollution has continued to grow globally. Those emissions need to peak by 2025 to achieve the Paris goals, the report says.

The long-term goal is to reach net-zero greenhouse gas pollution globally by the middle of the century. That’s only possible if countries make steady progress, cutting emissions by more than 40 percent by the end of the decade and by 60 percent by 2035 compared to 2019 levels.

World leaders will meet in November to figure out how to ramp up climate ambitions during the UN climate summit, which takes place annually. This year’s negotiations will be guided in part by the report published today, which is the culmination of two years of work with input from hundreds of governments, scientists, and advocates.

Notably, the report uses language that somehow still tries to include fossil fuels in a future with clean energy. It pushes for “net” zero emissions, which allows for some greenhouse gas emissions to still be emitted as long as an equal amount of carbon dioxide is taken out of the atmosphere. It also calls for phasing out “unabated” fossil fuels. Adding “unabated” means that coal- and gas-fired power plants, for instance, could stay on line if they include unproven technologies that scrub some CO2 out of their smokestack emissions.

Past UN climate negotiations have also tiptoed around the need to wean the world off fossil fuels in order to meet the Paris goals. This year’s summit, taking place in the United Arab Emirates, will be led by the CEO of the country’s national oil company. That has a lot of environmental advocates worried about whether the talks will lead to ambitious enough outcomes or cater more to fossil fuel interests.

“The United Nations’ polite prose glosses over what is a truly damning report card for global climate efforts. Carbon emissions? Still climbing,” Ani Dasgupta, president and CEO of the nonprofit World Resources Institute, said in an emailed statement. “Leaders must rally behind a response plan that accelerates action at a pace and depth not seen before. Critical steps include rapidly shifting away from fossil fuels toward renewable energy.”

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