UN warns the world has not done enough to stop 'climate catastrophe'

A climate catastrophe may be closer than expected, a new UN report suggests. Deborah Cohen reports

Countries currently aren't doing nearly enough to reduce the threat of "climate catastrophe" triggered by extreme global warming by the end of the century, a UN Environment Programme report warns.

The stark report has been published ahead of the COP27 summit in November.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was on Thursday accused of a 'failure of leadership' after Downing Street revealed he would not be attending the climate summit in Egypt.

A No10 spokesperson said the new leader had pulled out of attending the summit because of “domestic commitments” ahead of the Autumn Budget on November 17.

But shadow climate change secretary Ed Miliband said the PM "fails to understand" that tackling the climate crisis is linked to the UK's "domestic priorities", such as bill costs and energy security.

The UN's report, which shows how far off track nations are on cutting global warming pollution, reveals a huge gap between the action needed to limit global temperature rises to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, and what countries are doing and have pledged to do.

Current climate policies put the world on track for warming of 2.8C, the report warns.

The plans that countries have set out already for the next decade do not go far enough and will not prevent extreme warming of 2.4-2.6C, the UN said.

The world is already recording a 1.5C increase in temperatures - evident in extreme global weather conditions this year.

England experienced one of its warmest summers in more than a century this year, while the US was hit by multiple freak storms, and floods devastated vast areas of North Pakistan.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres speak on India UN Partnership at IIT Mumbai in Mumbai, India, Wednesday, October 19 Credit: AP

Extreme weather events around the globe caused devastating crop damage and losses of key systems such as coral reefs are expected.

Under the Paris climate treaty, agreed in 2015, countries vowed to take action to cut greenhouse gas emissions to limit global warming to well below 2C.

Countries vulnerable for sea level rise pressed for a target of 1.5C - to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Governments promised to submit plans for how they were going to achieve their aims.

To get on track for limiting warming to 1.5C and avoid the most dangerous climate extremes, annual emissions must be reduced by 45% within just eight years, and continue to decline rapidly after that, the UNEP report said.

Overall, current climate plans are estimated to reduce global emissions in 2030 by between 5% and 10% - amounting to three to six billion tonnes.

That leaves a gap of 20-23 billion tonnes of extra emissions cuts in 2030 needed to meet the 1.5C goal and a chasm of 12-15 billion tonnes to stay within the 2C limit.

Two men walk to the nearest cyclone center in Khulna, Bangladesh, during Tropical Storm Sitrang on October 24 Credit: AP

Mr Guterres called for action by developed countries to lead in boosting their national climate plans, support for emerging economies to shift to renewables, and an end to the reliance on fossil fuels.

He urged multilateral banks – in particular the World Bank – to commit to greater climate action, and said the world could not “afford any more greenwashing, fake movers or late movers”.

The UNEP report said that urgent electricity supply, industry, transport, and buildings, policy changes were needed. Countries needed to do better to protect natural landscapes, and promote changes to diet and farming practises, and support industry to cut carbon from food supply chains.

The financial system must also be reformed to provide investments of the USD$4-6 trillion a year needed to enable the transformation, the report said.

Other urgent practical action the report recommended to deliver the cuts included removing fossil fuel subsidies, halting expansion of coal and gas plants, setting mandates to switch to zero-emissions vehicles and implementing 100% renewables targets.

The global food chain accounts for one-third of all emissions and must make a “large reduction”, the report warned.

Its authors pointed to a range of actions, including a switch to flexitarian, vegetarian and vegan diets, improvements in farming and managing soils, and reducing deforestation and the loss of peatlands, to help curb emissions.

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