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Despite progress at COP26, climate target of 1.5C is out of reach

A recent study led by the University of Melbourne suggests that the pledges on curbing greenhouse gas emissions from the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow could help limit global temperature rises to below 1.9C. Plans by India (the world’s third biggest greenhouse gas emitter) to reach net zero emissions by 2070 will likely make an important contribution to reaching climate targets.

According to Alok Sharma, the president of COP26, these new commitments from a large number of countries represent important progress, but are still insufficient to reach the goal set in 2015 by the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to less than 1.5C above pre-industrial temperatures. 

Many scientists warn that if temperatures rise above the 1.5C target, some impacts of climate change are likely to become irreversible, including small islands being flooded and extreme weather events increasing in frequency.

In order to stay within the 1.5C threshold, global greenhouse emissions should decrease about 45 percent by 2030, which, as many important speakers at the Glasgow summit admitted, will likely not happen. However, if by 2050 major greenhouse emitters manage to meet the net zero target, there is a high change that global temperatures will not surpass the 2C limit.

“It’s still a huge if, because many of the net zero targets – including the net zero target from India – are conditional on international support,” said study lead author Malte Meinshausen, a climate scientist at the University of Melbourne. “We need to see that happen.”

“Any progress is welcome but we need extreme caution about declaring success on the basis of vague and often vacuous net zero targets three or more decades hence,” added Edward Miliband, the Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy of the UK. 

“For example, Australia has a 2050 net zero target but its 2030 plans are in line with 4 degrees of warming. There is a reason for the focus on halving emissions this decisive decade. It reflects the urgency, clarity and specificity we need to keep 1.5C alive. We cannot allow political leaders to shift the goalposts.”

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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