Greenhouse gas concentrations hit a record last year and the world is “way off track” in capping rising temperatures, the United Nations said on Monday in a stark illustration of the task facing climate talks in Glasgow.
A report by the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) showed carbon dioxide levels surged to 413.2 parts per million in 2020, rising more than the average rate over the last decade despite a temporary dip in emissions during COVID-19 lockdowns.
WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said the current rate of increase in heat-trapping gases would result in temperature rises “far in excess” of the 2015 Paris Agreement target of 1.5 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial average this century.
“We are way off track,” he said. “We need to revisit our industrial, energy and transport systems and whole way of life,” he added, calling for a “dramatic increase” in commitments at the COP26 conference beginning on Sunday.
The Scottish city of Glasgow was putting on the final touches before hosting the climate talks, which may be the world’s best remaining chance to cap global warming at the 1.5-2 degrees Celsius upper limit set out in the Paris Agreement.
“It is going to be very, very tough this summit,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said during a news conference with children.
“I am very worried because it might go wrong and we might not get the agreements that we need and it is touch and go, it is very, very difficult, but I think it can be done,” he said.
The German government announced Chancellor Angela Merkel will travel to Glasgow to take part. Russian President Vladimir Putin will not attend in person. He and Chinese President Xi Jinping are expected to make video appearances instead.
Stakes are huge
The stakes for the planet are huge - among them the very survival of low-lying countries, the impact on economic livelihoods the world over and the future stability of the global financial system.
Alok Sharma, the president of COP26, said developed nations are set to be three years late meeting a pledge to commit a total of $500 billion to help poorer countries tackle climate change.
Rich nations vowed in 2009 to deliver $100 billion a year for five years, starting in 2020. But a plan on how to do so, prepared by Canada and Germany ahead of the summit, said the annual target would now not be met until 2023.
“Understandably, this has been a source of deep frustration for developing countries,” Sharma told a televised news conference. “The aim of putting this plan together has been to rebuild trust ... countries will need to deliver on this.”
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said on Saturday that the world’s top oil exporter aims to reach “net zero” emissions of greenhouse gases, mostly produced by burning fossil fuels, by 2060. He also said it would double the emissions cuts it plans to achieve by 2030.
A Reuters poll of economists found that hitting the Paris goal of net-zero carbon emissions will require investments in a green transition worth 2%-3% of world output each year until 2050, far less than the economic cost of inaction.
By contrast, governments since January 2020 have spent a total of $10.8 trillion - or 10.2% of global output - in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A “business-as-usual” trajectory leading to temperature rises of 1.6C, 2.4C and 4.4C by 2030, 2050 and 2100 respectively would result in 2.4% lost output by 2030, 10% by 2050 and 18% by 2100, according to the median replies to the survey.
In London, climate activists restarted their campaign of blockading major roads by disrupting traffic in the city’s financial district, while in Madrid a few dozen people staged a sit-in protest, briefly blocking the Gran Via shopping street.
“Greenhouse gas emissions are provoking climate catastrophes all over the planet. We don’t have time. It’s already late and if we don’t join the action against what’s happening, we won’t have time to save what is still left,” said Alberto, 27, a sociologist who took part in the protest.