Net Zero by 2050: can the world pull together in response to the United Nations’ plea?

‘The state of our planet is broken’. These are the words with which Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General, began his ‘State of the Planet’ address to Columbia University’s World Leaders Forum on 2nd December. Simultaneously stark and hopeful, the speech outlined the reality now faced by the planet, before discussing positive changes which have been made, and delineating those measures which must be taken to halt global temperature increase at the designated 1.5C.   

Five years after the ratification of the Paris Agreement at COP21, the BBC has produced an article exploring the extent to which key signatories of the agreement have adhered to the established terms.

The next Conference of the Parties, COP26, is planned to take place in Glasgow in November 2021. With this in mind, it is interesting to see to what degree the UK has adhered to the pledges it made back in 2015. After consistently meeting levels below those denoted in targets, UK emissions are now 45% lower than they were in 1990. As part of the Brexit transition process, Boris Johnson has released a new, ‘standalone’ plan to tackle carbon usage, the goal of which is to reduce emissions to 31-32% of 1990’s levels by the end of the decade. Despite green activists calling for more – Extinction Rebellion’s Tim Crosland claims a 100% cut in UK emissions must be made to stay below the 1.5C temperature threshold – this nationally determined contribution (NDC) is set to be ‘world-leading’. The new NDC also calls for 87% of UK electricity to be powered by low carbon sources by the end of the decade, and for around 50% of cars to be electric.

The EU too has been successful in achieving its pledged targets, having outdone expectations by reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 23.2% by 2018, a target higher than the expected 20% of 1990 levels by 2020. A new goal for 2030 is currently under discussion.

China made headlines in September when it announced its aim to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. China’s goals have differed somewhat from its counterparts, focusing more on a reduction in carbon intensity than overall usage. However, it too remains on track to attain its goal of peak emissions by 2030, having overshot their initial goal and achieved a 46% reduction of 2005 level emissions by 2017.

Australia, who is ‘the world’s largest exporter of coal and gas’ and responsible for 3.6% of the world’s emissions is set to fall short of its 26-28% reduction in emissions by 2030. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has also faced criticism for his lack of action to combat climate change.

The Covid-19 pandemic has of course had ramifications upon U.N actions; an article published by Reuters on Tuesday 8th December claimed that many of the 196 countries who signed the Paris Agreement are not on track to meet the deadline of submission for updated NDCs. With just eight countries having submitted these so far, and only thirty expected to do so by the end of 2020, the good news is that of those countries yet to submit their NDCs, 70% are likely to have increased the ambition of their climate goals.  

So, in the words of Guterres – and following the steps which have already been taken by participants in the Paris Climate Agreement – ‘the central objective of the United Nations for 2021 is to build a truly global coalition for carbon neutrality’. The Climate Ambitions Summit, held today on the 12th December 2020, is an opportunity for world leaders to discuss the steps which must be taken to protect our planet. These will comply with the three pillars agreed by the Paris Agreement: mitigation, adaptation and finance commitments.  

If 2020 has taught us anything, it is that it is not enough for countries to act on an individual basis – though of course, individual action remains an important factor in reducing global emissions. Rather, in the words of Guterres, to avoid the ‘thundering temperature rise of 3-5 C’ which we are currently heading towards, global leaders must work cohesively to combat this, the most pressing issue of our time. ‘There is no vaccine for the planet; nature needs a bailout’ and we must be the generation who does so.


Image: Flickr, Le Centre d’Information sur l’Eau, under Creative Commons

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