UN chief says countries ‘utterly failing’ to meet global climate goals

The UN secretary-general has warned that countries are “utterly failing” to keep the goals of the Paris climate accord within reach, the latest downbeat assessment just days ahead of the opening of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.

Despite a flurry of new climate pledges in the past week, including from fossil fuel exporters Saudi Arabia and Australia, António Guterres said in a speech that the world was “still on track for climate catastrophe”.

“These announcements are for 2050 [or 2060], so it not clear how they will materialise,” he said, criticising the lack of detail in the plans.

“Obviously an announcement for 2060, without a programme for how to get there, well, it has the value that it has,” he said, without naming any specific country.

With COP26 set to begin in just five days, the faultlines among the world’s biggest economies around issues such as coal are becoming increasingly clear. UK prime minister Boris Johnson said it was “touch and go” whether COP26 would be a success.

Existing climate pledges that cover the next decade put the world on track for 2.7C of warming by 2100, according to research published on Tuesday by the UN Environment Programme.

If the world’s major emitters such as the US and China succeed in achieving their net zero greenhouse gas emissions targets by mid-century, then the warming would be brought down to about 2.2C, the report says.

The 2015 Paris climate accord, endorsed by 197 countries, aims to limit global warming to well below 2C, ideally to 1.5C.

However, most countries with net zero targets do not yet have the policies to back up their goals, according to Thomas Hale, associate professor at the Blavatnik School of Government at Oxford university and one of the UNEP report authors.

“The next step is they need to put the policies in place,” said Hale, pointing out that while 18 of the G20 countries now had net zero targets, the details were still quite vague for some of them.

The challenges facing the COP26 summit includes a shortfall in climate finance from rich countries to developing countries, which failed to reach a promised target of $100bn in 2020.

Jochen Flasbarth, the German environment minister, said countries were making progress in setting new climate targets ahead of COP26, adding that the UK can be “proud” of the announcements that have already been made.

Yet he also cautioned that the high bar for success at COP26, which US climate envoy John Kerry has described as the “last, best hope”, may not be met.

“This is a very important COP . . . but it’s not the last COP,” he said. “It’s not that this COP will be the last one to [determine] whether we stay in line with our Paris targets or not.”

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