UN: Paris climate pledges won't stop dangerous warming. But what will?

In December 190 nations are set to convene in Paris to discuss reducing global greenhouse gas emissions, but the UN warns plans are already coming up short.

Youssef Boudlal/Reuters
France's President Francois Hollande (L) and Morocco's King Mohammed VI sign an agreement in preparation for the COP21 climate talks in Tangiers September 20, 2015.

If climate policy were Sesame Street, it would be sponsored by the number 2.

A broad scientific consensus sets 2 degrees Celsius – about 3.6 Fahrenheit – as the maximum level our planet's surface can warm before climate change gets especially dangerous. 

A maximum of 2 degrees is also the goal of the the UN’s climate summit in Paris at the end of this year, but now the UN’s climate chief warns that nations are already falling short.

The UN’s climate chief, Christiana Figueres, told reporters in Brussels that so far 62 countries had submitted promises of emissions cuts ahead of the Paris meeting, covering about 70 percent of global emissions. UK government sources told the Guardian that pledges, called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), were expected from India, Brazil, Indonesia and other nations before Paris.

The expected pledges are likely to limit temperature rises to about 3 degrees Celsius.

“What the INDCs will do is mark a very substantial departure from business as usual,” Figueres said. But she added: “Is 3C acceptable? No.”

But those negotiating towards a global agreement that will reach a resolution in December are still optimistic. If nothing is done to cut emissions, climate experts project a temperature increase of 5 degrees Celsius. The talks in Paris, which will begin on Nov 30, are expected to yield mandates to ramp up emissions cuts in future years.

Hurdles remain over how much money developing nations will receive to handle global warming and how oversight will be managed once deals are done.

The debate over climate aid will evolve starting Oct. 9, with the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund in Lima, Peru convening to identify how much capital is already going via existing international NGOs. Developed nations have already pledged $100 billion a year to poorer nations by 2020.

The UN has said it will add up the pledges by the start of October and issue a report by Nov. 1, Reuters reports.

The summit in Paris contrasts with the last major climate deal to come from talks in Copenhagen in 2009: the proposed Paris deal will take commitments from each participating nation and incorporate those into the global deal, instead of attempting a strict global deal that then mandates what individual nations can do.

“We are going to get an agreement and it will have all the major countries in it, which did not look likely a few years ago,” said Nick Mabey, an expert on climate change negotiations and chief executive of green non-profit organisation E3G, in an interview with the Guardian. “It is not going to deliver 2C overnight, but it will put in place immediate action and reduce warming.”

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