Climate Change

World not on track to meet long-term climate targets, shows largest-ever UN assessment

Climate impacts “eroding past human development gains” & lack of adaptation action will make it difficult to make such gains in future

By Tamanna Sengupta
Published: Monday 11 September 2023
There is now near-universal climate action but progress is inadequate and window to “course correct” is rapidly closing. Photo: iStock

The world is “not on track” to meet the long-term goal of limiting global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius, warns the first global stocktake technical synthesis report released by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) on September 8. 

The report acknowledged that improved Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) from countries with ambitious emissions reduction targets have led to near-universal climate action. However, it is clear that the progress is inadequate and the window to “course correct” is rapidly closing. 

The global stocktake (GST) aims to serve as a report card on the progress of countries under the 2015 Paris Agreement in achieving their climate action goals. While assessment reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) put forth observations made by scientific experts, GST summarises 252 hours of conversations between governments, civil society organisations, experts and the UN bodies. The GST, therefore, combines scientific observations with on-ground experiences. 

The synthesis report culminates the second phase of the GST process, summarising three technical discussions held between 2022 and 2023. Its findings are expected to provide a strong science-based foundation for the third and final “political phase” of GST coming up at the 28th Conference of Parties (COP28) to the UNFCCC in Dubai later this year.

Urgent efforts are needed from all countries to reach net zero emissions by 2050, as put forth by the IPCC. Moreover, global peaking of emissions is yet to take place and must happen between 2020 and 2025 for a liveable future. Current mitigation plans are not ambitious enough to achieve this goal and countries are expected to make successive NDCs more robust, the authors of the report noted.

Focus on energy transition

Phasing out of all unabated fossil fuels and scaling up renewable energy are “indispensable elements of just energy transitions”, noted the report. The emphasis comes at a crucial time, as G20 countries committed to accelerating a “phase down” of unabated coal but refrained from committing to a phase out of all fossil fuels a day after the release of the synthesis report.

While pathways will differ based on the individual contexts of countries, a just energy transition can result in 3.5 times higher job creations than job losses by 2030, according to the report.

Net zero systems will require energy efficiency gains, demand side management and widespread electrification alongside curbing deforestation. Yet, on average, governments have allocated at least $643 billion per year for fossil fuel support from 2010 to 2021. 

Past analysis has estimated that annual investment in energy surges to $5 trillion by 2030 in a net zero track. It is critical to unlock and redeploy trillions of dollars to meet global emissions targets now more than ever.

Accelerating adaptation plans 

Climate impacts are “eroding past human development gains” and a lack of adaptation action will make it difficult to make such gains in the future, the report also noted. 

Showing increasing focus on adaptation planning, 80 per cent countries have included adaptation in their NDCs. However, adaptation efforts remain fragmented and unequal with increasing evidence of maladaptation, the findings showed. 

Although a total of 140 developing countries have embarked on the process of formulating National Adaptation Plans, progress has been slow, with many citing resource and finance gaps. 

Transparent communication of adaptation efforts is critical and the need for better monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL) tools have been raised in technical discussions repeatedly. 

The Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA), established under Article 7 of the Paris Agreement to “enhance adaptive capacity, strengthen resilience and reduce vulnerability to climate change”, continues to be the subject of many negotiations between the developed and developing countries. 

The development of MEL methodologies and indicators is essential to inform the GGA framework, a fact echoed by the synthesis report.

Mobilising climate finance

A key section of the report called for radically scaled up mobilisation of climate finance from developed to developing countries. While public climate finance from developed countries rose by 80 per cent between 2013 and 2020, the technical discussions saw developing countries point out the still unfulfilled $100 billion climate finance goal. 

The needs of developing countries are also growing due to increasing climate impacts. The evolution of multilateral development banks (MDB) and international financial institutions to mitigate financial risk, lower investment costs and improve access to finance is crucial to improving financial flow. However, this brings up the need to develop robust outcome indicators for MDBs. 

Many developing countries have highlighted the counterproductivity of climate finance offered as debt. In fact, the report also stated that developing countries have limited space to invest in climate action due to debt taking up a large portion of national budgets. The impact of climate change makes developing countries a “high risk environment”, increasing the interest rates on loans and leading to a cycle of debt. The role of MDBs in expanding concessional money alongside urgent reform to the climate financing system is critical to debt sustainability.

Need for equity assessment framework

The report defined “equity” as a multidimensional concept, stressing that updated mitigation pathways adopted by countries must take into account their social and economic contextual factors. 

Even so, it acknowledged the lack of a universally agreed framework to assess equity and fairness. Many countries refer to equity in terms of emissions shares. However, this ranges from historical emissions to per capita emissions to emissions as a function of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). 

While developing countries, including India, called for an equitable share to the remaining global carbon budget keeping historical emissions in mind; developed countries like the US stated that equitable sharing should consider the lack of low-emission alternatives available historically compared to today. 

The impact this continuing debate will have on the collective agreement to align equity with climate ambitions remains to be seen. 

The GST process, the largest assessment of global climate action ever, is expected to provide a foundation for COP28 negotiations and inform the next set of NDCs due in 2025, making them more robust, ambitious, urgent and transparent. 

“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. The global stocktake is a critical moment for greater ambition and accelerating action,” said Simon Stiell, executive secretary of UN Climate Change.

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