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The current climate pledges nations are making won't be enough, UN report card says


A new report from the United Nations sounds an alarm not just on the threat of catastrophic global warming, but on plans to stop it. Many countries are making new pledges to cut their climate change emissions. They'll be negotiating them at the International Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, next week. But the U.N. just released a report card about whether those pledges do enough. Joining me to talk about that is NPR's Lauren Sommer. Hi, Lauren.


MCCAMMON: So these international negotiations are being seen as a crucial moment for climate change. But what exactly are the pledges that these countries are making?

SOMMER: Yeah. So what the science shows is that global emissions from burning fossil fuels need to fall. And they need to fall fast over the next decade. So these pledges show what each country is willing to do to cut emissions. The U.S. stopped cooperating on that under former President Trump, so now the Biden administration has a new goal for the U.S. That's to cut emissions basically in half by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. And the U.S. has been encouraging other countries to be more ambitious with their pledges before this big climate conference, known as COP26, starts next week.

MCCAMMON: OK. And if you add all of those commitments together, how much do they actually do to address climate change?

SOMMER: Yeah, they don't do enough. And that's according to that report from the U.N. out today. There's some improvement. Emissions would be about 7% lower in 2030 compared to before. But they need to be 55% lower to keep the planet at a crucial threshold, which is 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming, which is around 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit. Here's how U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres framed it today when the report came out.


ANTONIO GUTERRES: If there is no meaningful reduction of emissions in the next decade, we will have lost forever the possibility of reaching 1.5 degrees. So this is a moment of truth.

MCCAMMON: And the big question - if countries miss this mark, what do scientists say the planet will look like?

SOMMER: Yeah. I mean, if emissions stay on this track, they will likely be more than 4 degrees Fahrenheit of warming. That may only sound like a few degrees difference, but it's a really huge change. Extreme heat waves would be more than 10 times more common. Rainfall and storms would be more intense, so flooding would get worse. And at that level, coral reefs have very little shot of avoiding a complete die-off. Just last week, the Defense Department released a report about how extreme warming is a national security threat because storms and droughts can destabilize countries and cause people to migrate.

MCCAMMON: So if the world needs to move faster on climate change, Lauren, which countries are being asked to step up more and fill that gap?

SOMMER: Yeah. I mean, that's the question for next week. The real tension is between industrialized and developing nations because developing countries have done very little to cause climate change. Their emissions are low. But they're experiencing some of the most severe effects, so they're calling on wealthier countries to step up. It's really a question of fairness for them. The biggest emitter today is China, and the country plans on letting emissions rise until 2030, but it's only taken the top spot recently. If you add up all the emissions over the last century, the U.S. is the biggest polluter. But many of the Biden administration's climate policies for clean energy are tied up in congressional budget negotiations right now, so the U.S. may be arriving at the climate talks without a clear way to deliver on what it's promised.

MCCAMMON: NPR's Lauren Sommer. Thank you.

SOMMER: Thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Lauren Sommer covers climate change for NPR's Science Desk, from the scientists on the front lines of documenting the warming climate to the way those changes are reshaping communities and ecosystems around the world.

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