Despite the clear human and environmental toll of global warming, countries are taking only “baby steps” to rein in greenhouse gas emissions, a senior United Nations official said, summarizing a new U.N. report card on the promises made by governments so far.
The U.N. findings, published Tuesday, are the latest of several assessments that paint a dire picture in which the countries aren’t doing nearly enough to keep global warming within relatively safe levels. “Today’s report shows that governments combined are taking baby steps to avert the climate crisis,” said Simon Stiell, the executive secretary of the U.N. climate change agency. “And it shows why governments must make bold strides forward.”
Notably, a separate study from researchers in Saudi Arabia found that the country could face an “existential crisis” — threatening food and water supplies, along with the health of religious pilgrims during the Hajj — if global average temperatures rise by 3 degrees Celsius, or 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit, compared with preindustrial times. That’s roughly the level of warming that is projected if every country meets its climate goals.
Saudi Arabia is of course one of the world’s biggest oil producers, and it is the burning of oil and other fossil fuels that’s warming the planet by releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
“In this critical juncture,” the October report said, “Saudi Arabia faces a momentous choice: To adapt and innovate in the face of climate adversity, or suffer the severe and potentially irrevocable consequences of inaction.” The 133-page study was written by researchers at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology and the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center.
Findings like these are likely to be central to the debate later this month when tens of thousands of people, including world leaders, converge on Dubai for the annual U.N. global climate negotiations. The future of fossil fuels is the main flashpoint of these talks, all the more so because the negotiations are taking place in the oil-rich Middle East.
Hosting the talks is United Arab Emirates, a petrostate. For the first time, an oil industry executive will preside over the U.N. climate negotiations.
According to the United Nations report card that was released Tuesday, if every country does what it has promised to rein in global warming, and that’s a big if, global emissions would grow by 9 percent between now and 2030, compared with 2010 levels.
That’s slightly better than where things stood last year.
But it’s the opposite of what needs to happen, according to scientific consensus. Global greenhouse gas emissions should fall by nearly half by 2030, compared with 2010 levels, if the world is to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2011, compared with the start of the industrial age — an aspirational threshold that seems increasingly out of reach.
“The world is failing to get a grip on the climate crisis,” the United Nations secretary general, Antonio Guterres, said on Tuesday. The U.N. report, hewing to diplomacy, did not break down which countries are doing what, nor did it point fingers at laggards or obstructionists.
At the moment, the global average temperature is about 1.1 degrees Celsius higher than it was 150 years ago, before the industrial revolution. If countries fulfill their current climate pledges, the average global temperature is projected to increase by up to 2.8 degrees.
By one measure, the world is on track to meet its short-term target for emissions reductions, and that’s on the sales of electric passenger cars. This is according to another report, published jointly by several independent research groups.
That report also evaluated 41 other indicators, including moving away from fossil fuels in the electricity sector and making buildings more energy efficient. None of the others were on track to meet the goal to limit warming to 1.5 degree Celsius. For instance, the share of wind and solar energy to produce electricity is growing, but not fast enough.
And some indicators are going in the wrong direction altogether, the report warned. Government subsidies for fossil fuels grew last year, for example, spurred by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the skyrocketing cost of oil and gas.
Among the winners of that price increase were the oil giants of the world, including U.S. oil majors and petrostates in the Middle East, like Saudi Arabia.