With just five days left until leaders meet at the UN’s COP26 climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland, dozens of nations have not yet officially updated their pledges to reduce emissions, as they are supposed to do under the rules of the 2015 Paris Agreement.
Of the G20 countries, which account for 80% of the world’s emissions, only six nations have formally increased their targets. The report also found that six G20 nations, including the United States, never met their old targets. The others were Canada, Australia, Brazil, South Korea and Mexico.
The report found that new and updated pledges on emissions will only cut an additional 7.5% by 2030, but a 55% cut is needed to meet the goal of containing warming to 1.5 degrees.
Under countries’ current targets, the world will continue to warm to 2.7 degrees, according to UNEP.
“Countries have stretched, but they’ve not stretched enough,” Inger Andersen, executive director of the UNEP, told CNN. “Many of them sort of kick the can down the road, and we need to see not pledges anymore we actually need to see real action.”
The annual “emissions gap” report outlines the difference between what countries have pledged and what more needs to be done. To limit warming to 1.5 degrees, UNEP reports the world needs to slash current emissions in half in the next eight years.
“We’re not nearly where we want to be,” Andersen said. “We want to be optimistic and say the window is still open, we can still make it — but it’s closing very fast. The reality is we must make this happen in this current decade.”
All eyes will be on wealthy G20 countries at COP26, particularly the world’s largest fossil fuel emitters. The G20 countries are responsible for around 80% of the world’s emissions, according to Andersen.
“It is clear that everyone must assume their responsibilities,” Guterres said.
Even UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose country is hosting COP26, said Monday that success at the talks will be “touch and go.”
Some countries have announced other goals, including net-zero dates, but those targets are ambiguous and outside the official NDCs. Achieving net-zero emissions, where the amount of greenhouse gas removed from the atmosphere equals what is emitted, is critical to global climate commitments. UNEP reports that these actions, if implemented, could potentially shave off a half a degree of warming.
But smaller countries can also make an impact: Emissions from the rest of the world combined exceeds China’s total output of carbon dioxide.
“Those in poorer countries are going to suffer the very most, so ensuring that there’s a degree of equity and a degree of global solidarity for adaptation finance is also critical,” she said.
While slashing carbon dioxide emissions is critical, the emissions gap report also emphasized the need to control a more insidious culprit: methane.
Methane, an invisible, odorless gas that’s more than 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide, is the main component of the natural gas people now use to fuel stoves and heat homes. It’s also pumped into the atmosphere in large amounts by landfills, livestock and the oil and gas industry.
Andersen said in order to close the emissions gap, the world needs to reimagine and reinvent all energy and transportation sectors.
“It means a fundamental overhaul of the sectors,” she said. “The good news is that there are solutions right there, at our fingertips. We just need a few nudges and policy guardrails that sets the tone.”
And while there’s still room to change the course of the climate crisis, Andersen added action is needed by 2030. Unless fossil fuel emissions are slashed quickly, extreme weather will increasingly be in Earth’s future.
“This is possible. We can do this, but it won’t happen without real leadership,” Andersen said. “And that’s where multilateral agreements matter. It will take the leadership of everyone, including the smallest of countries, but it will particularly take steady, firm, and supportive leadership by the G20 and other wealthy economies.”