1.5 Degrees Celsius: A Reality Check

The UN published this chart on 4 November for delegates to Cop26.  It includes all the latest data from countries around the world on their plans to limit the emission of greenhouse gases in what are known as ‘Nationally Determined Contributions’ or NDCs for short.  This goes to the heart of the Cop process and is the mechanism that lies behind the headlines.

The NDCs were introduced at Cop21 in Paris in 2015 requiring governments to set out every five years the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions that they are prepared to commit to.  All signatories to the Paris agreement submitted their first NDCs five years ago and most but not all have now submitted new and revised NDCs summarised in this chart. There is some increase in ambition, but the chart shows just how far we are from the 1.5 degrees Celsius target. 

If we want to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, we should be following the pale blue track towards the bottom of the chart.  The reality is that present commitments are in the red band at the top of the chart resulting in warming of well over 2 degrees Celsius.   Current national commitments will stabilise emissions and maybe result in a small reduction but nothing like what is needed.

There is a second issue of whether the plans are credible and whether they can be implemented. The UK has an ambitious target of a 78% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions on 1990 levels by 2035. However, the UK Climate Change Committee has pointed out that this requires radical action every year from now until 2035, for example by replacing all gas fired central heating in homes across the UK with new low carbon technology such as heat pumps. Unfortunately, there is not much sign of such radical action yet.

The announcements made this week on limiting methane emissions and an end to coal mining are more encouraging but are not yet global in reach. So, as ever progress at the Cop is slow and painstaking.

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