‘Faster progress’ needed to meet UN climate goals, EU warns

“The margin of manoeuvre to reach 1.5°C of temperature increase is now very limited," said Philippe Tulkens from the European Commission's research directorate. [EURACTIV / YouTube]

World nations are moving too slowly in implementing carbon-cutting pledges made at the landmark Paris climate summit six years ago, EU policymakers have said ahead of the COP26 conference opening in Glasgow on 31 October.

“Action on both mitigation and adaptation is too slow” to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C, one of the stated objectives of the Paris Agreement signed in 2015, said Philippe Tulkens, a senior official at the European Commission’s research directorate in charge of climate.

“And science confirms today that much more effort and faster progress need to occur”.

“The margin of manoeuvre to reach 1.5°C of temperature increase is now very limited and even for the 2°C target, the magnitude and pace of changes required is unprecedented in the history of human civilisation,” he told a EURACTIV online event on Monday (18 October).

“Policymakers will need courage at the frontline” of COP26 in order to bridge this gap, Tulkens said. “If we fail, it will hurt and it started already, as we saw with the floods and fires” that hit Europe and other places around the world this year, he warned.

The warning from the European Commission comes only two weeks before the opening of the climate summit in Glasgow where leaders from more than 190 countries are expected to make new pledges to cut emissions blamed for global heating.

But while major emitters like Europe, the US, Japan, and the UK have all stepped up their commitments, other countries like India, China, Russia, and Australia are still dragging their feet, said Antony Froggatt from Chatham House, the UK think tank.

“These are all countries that can make a difference in terms of the overall emissions level in 2030 so for me, this is a key test,” Froggatt told participants at the event.

The COP26 conference has been branded as the summit where world countries would come together to fulfil the Paris Agreement’s objective of keeping global warming “well below 2°C” and aiming for 1.5°C.

“And this is unfortunately not happening,” said Michael Bloss, a German lawmaker from the  Greens political group in the European Parliament.

“We need to be much faster” in order to reach that target, he stressed, calling on Europe to be a “real climate leader” and raise its own climate goals.

Bloss pointed to a global stocktake of current pledges by Climate Action Tracker, which shows that global warming would hit 2.7°C under current policies adopted at the EU level.

EU ministers sign off on COP26 position, with one caveat

EU environment ministers on Wednesday (6 October) agreed on an ambitious stance going into the COP26 climate summit in November, but said they will only implement it if all other signatories of the Paris Agreement commit to do the same.

Alison Martin, the CEO for Europe at Swiss insurance group Zurich, pointed to an annual scorecard published by the Swiss insurer in September, which showed only limited progress on the path towards decarbonisation over the past year.

“The problem is that CO2 emissions are back on the rise following a brief pandemic-driven hiatus in 2020,” the report said.

The Zurich scorecard looked at 12 different variables to assess the probability of keeping global temperature rises below 1.5°C. It showed some improvements in areas like renewable energy and carbon pricing schemes, which currently cover around 20% of global carbon emissions.

“However, this is simply not enough” in order for us to meet the ambitions of Paris, Martin warned. “We need to break the link between greenhouse gas emissions and economic growth and we clearly haven’t done that yet,” she added.

The best way of breaking that link “is to continue rolling out carbon pricing schemes” to cover emissions across the entire economy, Martin explained, expressing hope that the COP26 “can deliver on some of this”.

International carbon market rules (Article 6)

One of the objectives of COP26 will be to deliver rules under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, which establishes the rules of international carbon markets.

Froggatt described those rules as “the nuts and the bolts” of the Paris Agreement and an essential part to make the pact function in practice.

However, Bloss warned that “some countries are pushing for double-counting” of emission reductions under Article 6. At COP25, Brazil insisted that countries selling carbon offset projects overseas should not be required to make a corresponding adjustment to their own climate target.

“If this happens then the whole integrity of the Paris system will be undermined,” Bloss warned, calling for stricter rules on international carbon trading.

Still, Bloss showed some optimism for Glasgow, citing an initiative by the COP presidency to get rich countries to agree a coal phase-out by 2030 at the latest.

“I think this is really important and the EU as the global climate leader should be part of this coalition for coal phase-out by the year 2030,” he said.

> Watch the full EURACTIV event below on YouTube

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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