Earth Headed for Nearly Three-Degree Temperature Hike—Well Above Paris Agreement Level

A new U.N. report finds current pledges put the planet on track to warm 2.5 to 2.9 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels this century

Man holds a bag of ice
A stall worker carries a bag of ice on Copacabana Beach during a heatwave in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on November 18, 2023. Tercio Teixeria / AFP via Getty Images

The Earth is on track for global average temperatures to rise by up to nearly 3 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, according to a new United Nations report. That temperature hike is almost double the amount that nations agreed upon in the Paris Agreement.

“There is no person or economy left on the planet untouched by climate change, so we need to stop setting unwanted records on greenhouse gas emissions, global temperature highs and extreme weather,” Inger Andersen, executive director of the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP), says in a statement. “We must instead lift the needle out of the same old groove of insufficient ambition and not enough action, and start setting other records: on cutting emissions, on green and just transitions and on climate finance.”

The Paris Agreement is a legally binding treaty signed in 2015 by nearly 200 nations. Its overarching goal is to limit global warming to as close to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels as possible—and keep it “well below” 2 degrees. As part of the agreement, nations submit Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs)—individual plans for cutting greenhouse gas emissions and for adapting to the impacts of climate change—every five years. 

Some of these NDCs are “unconditional,” meaning a country can achieve these targets on its own. Others are considered “conditional,” which means they require help from outside nations. According to the new U.N. study, called the Emissions Gap Report, if all unconditional NDCs are fully implemented, warming would only be limited to about 2.9 degrees Celsius. This level of warming would lead to the Earth being “almost unimaginably inhospitable, worse at supporting life in virtually every way,” writes Zoë Schlanger for the Atlantic

If all the conditional NDCs are also put into place, global temperature rise would still reach 2.5 degrees Celsius, according to the report. This, scientists say, shows that current plans are not enough to curb climate change.

“We are seeing countries make progress on implementing the climate plans they’ve already announced,” Anne Olhoff, a climate policy expert based in Denmark and a co-author of the report, tells Brad Plumer of the New York Times. “But those plans are still far from sufficient for meeting the Paris Agreement goals.”

Overall, humanity has about a 14 percent likelihood of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees, per the report—and to do so, global emissions would need to be cut by about 42 percent by 2030. To limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius, nations would need to cut their 2030 emissions by 28 percent. Yet, global greenhouse gas emissions increased by 1.2 percent from 2021 to 2022, setting a new record, per the report. 

Still, the report recognized a piece of good news: Based on policies implemented in 2015, emissions were expected to increase by 16 percent by 2030. Today, that number has dropped to 3 percent.

The analysis comes as the Earth hits another major climate milestone: The planet appears to have reached an average surface temperature of more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels for the first time.

According to preliminary data, November 17, 2023, was the first day on record that this threshold was breached, and November 18, 2023, was the second day. This doesn’t mean that the Paris Agreement was broken, as the treaty refers to a sustained average over two or more decades, rather than one day or even one year, writes Andrew Freedman of Axios. But it does signal how much the planet has warmed already—crossing this milestone is “shockingly impactful,” as Carlo Buontempo, director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service, tells the Atlantic.

In less than two weeks, the U.N. climate conference called COP28 will start in Dubai. There, countries will gather to draft plans for limiting human-caused global warming. COP28 will begin on Nov. 30, 2023, and run through Dec. 12, 2023.

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