If those targets are met, the U.N. report found, that could nudge down expected future emissions further, though the world would remain sharply off track from its Paris agreement goals. Environmentalists have called on China to do far more to rein in its appetite for coal, the dirtiest of all fossil fuels.
The new report also warns that even these new climate pledges are only as good as the policies that back them up. That is still a major question mark.
The European Union, for instance, has proposed sweeping new climate legislation — including stricter caps on industrial emissions, new targets for electric vehicles and a border tax on carbon-intensive imports — to achieve its goal of slashing emissions 55 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. But those proposals still need approval from all 27 member states, and many remain contentious with industry groups.
In the United States, the Biden administration is still struggling to clarify exactly how it will meet its pledge, since major climate legislation has not been approved by Congress. One recent analysis found that the country might be able to meet its target with a combination of generous tax incentives for wind, solar and other clean energy, tough regulations to restrict pollution from power plants and automobile tailpipes, and a slew of climate laws enacted by states. But none of those actions are yet assured.
On top of that, most countries have largely squandered the chance for a “green recovery” in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the report said. While governments spent more than $16 trillion on stimulus measures over the past year, they largely focused on reviving the traditional fossil-fuel dependent parts of their economies as quickly as possible, with less than one-fifth of recovery funds used to promote low-carbon alternatives. As a result, global emissions are expected to rebound sharply this year after declining in 2020.
The new U.N. report also noted that more than 50 countries have now adopted formal goals to reach “net zero” emissions, which is essentially a promise to stop adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere by a certain date. The United States has vowed to get to net zero by 2050. China says it will aspire to do so by 2060. This week, Saudi Arabia unveiled a net zero goal.
In theory, those goals could have a powerful effect. The report estimates that if countries all followed through, the world could potentially limit global warming to around 2.2 degrees Celsius by 2100.
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