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Climate COP-out: Without further action, the world is headed for 'irreversible' climate chaos, the UN Secretary-General warns.

Catherine Boudreau   

Climate COP-out: Without further action, the world is headed for 'irreversible' climate chaos, the UN Secretary-General warns.
  • Research shows that countries and businesses are far off track to meet climate goals by 2030.
  • The planet is on track to warm by catastrophic levels this century.

The most important global climate meeting kicks off Sunday in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, a resort town along the Red Sea.

The two-week event, convened by the United Nations, is where world leaders try to negotiate steeper cuts to greenhouse-gas emissions, business leaders tout their efforts to tackle the crisis, and civil-society groups remind them that none of it is enough.

The proof is in recent reports showing that action to slash emissions is moving at glacial pace. Meanwhile, Russia's decision to cut natural gas to Europe has sparked a bidding war for supplies to fill the gap and sent prices soaring.

So where do things stand heading into COP27? Here are takeaways from recent assessments:

Climate pledges fall 'pitifully short'

Under the Paris Agreement, countries are expected to update national climate plans with more ambitious action every five years. At Glasgow, world leaders also agreed to "revisit and strengthen" their goals by the end of 2022 given the insufficient progress.

The latest UN progress report showed that little has changed. Despite 166 countries submitting new or updated plans, the world remains far from the goal of holding global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius — a threshold designed to avert catastrophic damage to society. (The planet has already warmed about 1.2 degrees since preindustrial times.)

Even if countries follow through on their promises, temperatures will rise by at least 2.4 degrees this century, the UN found. To keep 1.5 alive, countries would, by 2030, have to cut emissions 45% compared with where they're headed under current policies. But since Glasgow, nations have shaved off just 1% of projected emissions.

The UN secretary general, António Guterres, described the commitments as "falling pitifully short" and on Thursday said the planet is on course for tipping points that bake in catastrophic temperature rise and make climate chaos irreversible.

It's the same story for business

The world's largest companies aren't performing any better, according to insights by the consulting firm Accenture and a net-zero tracking report by MSCI, a global ratings agency.

Nearly all of the world's top 2,000 public and private companies by revenue will fall short of their net-zero goals if they don't slash emissions at double the current pace by 2030, Accenture said.

MSCI found that the 9,300 public companies on its net-zero tracker will release enough pollution into the atmosphere within four years to put the 1.5 degree target out of reach.

"One of the messages we'll hear at COP27 is that it's about moving from target-setting to taking action," said Mauricio Bermudez Neubauer, Accenture's global lead on carbon strategy and intelligence and a coauthor of the firm's report. "If we are to get to 1.5, this is a major transformation of production and consumption systems."

One bright spot: renewable energy

There is still uncertainty about the effects of the global energy crisis on the climate crisis. On one hand, shortages have boosted demand for coal and oil, but the International Energy Agency said that long-term energy demand will largely be met by renewables like solar and wind as well as nuclear plants. All three sources get a big boost under President Joe Biden's climate law.

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