The forecast for global warming is looking a little less bleak in the long term, but not so rosy in the short term. With numerous countries pledging to clean up their act and projected temperature rises now smaller than they once were, scientists and diplomats say the outlook for mid-to-late century is not as gloomy as it was when the historic 2015 Paris climate accord was signed.
But they caution that impacts of warming already are hitting Earth harder than scientists predicted. And they say the use of coal, oil and natural gas that fuels climate change is not dropping as much as needed, despite cheaper renewable energy.
On Saturday, exactly five years after the Paris climate agreement was struck, world leaders will gather virtually to both celebrate progress and chart the next steps.
The summit, hosted by the France, the United Kingdom and the UN, is designed to press leaders to ramp up their ambitions for the coming years and make good on past commitments.
More than 100 countries – and even more companies, states and cities – have pledged to achieve net zero carbon emissions by the middle of the century. Most of those promises aren’t yet official targets of the Paris pact, which is geared toward goals by 2030.
The European Union, as a group the world’s third largest emitter, Friday beefed up the continent’s 2030 carbon cut targets from 40% to 55% of 1990 emission levels.
The United States government, which under President Barack Obama was instrumental in forging the accord, won’t be present Saturday. The Trump administration pulled the U.S. out of the Paris agreement. President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to rejoin and put the U.S. on a track to stop adding more carbon to the atmosphere than can be removed by 2050.
The climate change landscape has changed in five years, and UN officials credit both cold, hard economics and a push from an idealistic younger generation. But Swedish teen environmentalist Greta Thunberg on Thursday blasted world leaders for setting “distant hypothetical targets” while “speeding in the wrong direction.”
Carbon pollution barely rose globally from 2018 to 2019, then dropped 7% this year because of the pandemic, although it’ll likely rise again. Wind and solar power costs dropped so fast that renewable energy is often cheaper than dirtier fossil fuels.
Such developments, however, are tempered by the reality that poor, sometimes low-lying countries already face existential threats from rising seas and other impacts of climate change.
“I’m alarmed by the growing evidence of accelerating climate destruction and injustice,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told The Associated Press in an email.
“But I’m also optimistic by the growing coalition to achieve net zero emissions … This is a tribute to the resilience of the Paris Agreement.”