In 2015, the world’s governments declared a collective ambition: to limit the rise in global temperatures to just 1.5 degrees Celsius. Since then, two things have become clear. First, the costs of exceeding that threshold are greater than believed eight years ago. Second, the goal looks increasingly difficult to reach. Even if governments enact all the climate policies they’ve so far announced — an optimistic assumption — warming this century is on track to exceed 2C and might run as high as 2.9C.
As 70,000 politicians, officials and interested parties gather in Dubai for COP28 — two weeks of talks to review what’s been done and still needs to be done — this failure to align policies with promises should remain front of mind. BloombergNEF is watching 10 areas where progress in Dubai can be measured against identifiable targets. As the meeting began, the expected score across all these initiatives was 3.9 out of 10. Likely progress on the overarching objective — to get global carbon emissions in sync with the 1.5C ambition by 2030 — was a pitiful 1 out of 10.
Yes, there’s been progress. Numerous companies — including 50 oil and gas producers — have announced pledges to restrict methane emissions, for instance. The US says it now aims to slash such pollution by 80% by 2038. Bloomberg Philanthropies estimates that such efforts could reduce emissions equivalent to 10 gigatons of carbon dioxide. A narrower agreement to triple renewable-energy capacity by 2030 also looks possible.
Governments are likewise inching forward on their financial commitments. Developed countries promised in 2009 to provide $100 billion a year by 2020 to help poorer countries pay for carbon abatement. Although that promise wasn’t kept, estimates suggest that the pledge was honored in 2022. At last year’s conference, governments celebrated a plan to create a fund to help poorer countries cope with climate change. As the Dubai meeting kicked off, the outlines of a facility to be hosted by the World Bank were announced. So far, the sums proposed are trivial (the Biden administration said it would work with Congress to find $17.5 million), but it’s a start.
What matters now is not more minutely discussed goals, commitments and pledges, but action. It’s encouraging that, for the first time, officials at this year’s conference will weigh the findings of a formal “global stocktake” on lack of progress. That ought to stifle any desire to say “so far, so good.”
One further conclusion to draw from this process is that the world can’t rely on grand global promises alone to address climate change. Pragmatic action wherever possible is vital. Individuals, companies and subnational levels of government also need to get engaged. In Dubai, the COP28 presidency and Bloomberg Philanthropies co-hosted the first Local Climate Action Summit, bringing together city leaders from around the world and underlining the role that they can play in rising to the challenge. (Michael R. Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, parent company of Bloomberg News, is the UN secretary-general’s special envoy for climate ambition and solutions.)
Such endeavors can’t make up for the failure of national governments to effectively meet the threat of climate change. But they’re an essential part of the fight. The opportunity to avoid irreversible damage is slipping away. Now more than ever, the world needs action instead of talk.
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