Countries Now Must Triple Climate Pledges, UN Warns, And Lifestyles Must Change

Having dragged their feet in the four years since signing the Paris Agreement, countries now must triple their climate pledges in 2020 to meet its 2º C goal, the United Nations Environment Program warns in a report released this morning.
To limit warming to 1.5º C—the level thought to preserve small island nations—they must increase their pledges fivefold, then take prompt action to fulfill them.
“Every year of delay beyond 2020 brings a need for faster cuts, which become increasingly expensive, unlikely and impractical,” says UNEP’s Emissions Gap Report. “Delays will also quickly put the 1.5°C goal out of reach.”
The Paris Agreement is often criticized for the inadequacy of its Nationally Determined Contributions, the voluntary pledges submitted by nations after the 2015 agreement was signed. But those critics often overlook the agreement’s requirement that countries revise pledges upward every five years.
The first such revision is due at the end of 2020, and the poor performance of countries so far means those revisions must be steep. It also means, according to Inger Andersen, UNEP’s executive director, that they can’t wait for the end of 2020.
“Our collective failure to act early and hard on climate change means we now must deliver deep cuts to emissions – over 7 per cent each year, if we break it down evenly over the next decade,” Anderson said. “This shows that countries simply cannot wait until the end of 2020, when new climate commitments are due, to step up action. They—and every city, region, business and individual—need to act now.”
In a list of main points accompanying the report, the UN says, “Footprints need to fall, which means lifestyle changes.” And in the report itself:
“By necessity, this will see profound change in how energy, food and other material-intensive services are demanded and provided by governments, businesses and markets. These systems of provision are entwined with the preferences, actions and demands of people as consumers, citizens and communities. Deep-rooted shifts in values, norms, consumer culture and world views are inescapably part of the great sustainability transformation. Legitimacy for decarbonization therefore requires massive social mobilization and investments in social cohesion to avoid exclusion and resistance to change. Just and timely transitions towards sustainability need to be developed, taking into account the interests and rights of people vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, of people and regions where decarbonization requires structural adjustments, and of future generations.”
The report is not without hope. If handled correctly, UNEP says, the transition could result in profound co-benefits:
“These range, for example, from reducing air pollution, improving human health, establishing sustainable energy systems and industrial production processes, making consumption and services more efficient and sufficient, employing less-intensive agricultural practices and mitigating biodiversity loss to liveable cities.”
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