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Climate promises are still not enough to avoid catastrophic global warming, U.N. says


A new report from the United Nations finds that the world has less than a decade to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 45%. This is if the world wants to limit the worst climate damage. Scientists say we need to keep global warming to within 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit. But many nations are not meeting their own lower pledges. Jennifer Allan is a strategic adviser at the International Institute for Sustainable Development, and she joins us this morning. Thanks for being here.

JENNIFER ALLAN: Pleasure. Good morning.

MARTIN: Jennifer, when you hear this news out of the U.N. that nations are still so far away from what needs to happen to prevent the worst effects of climate change, what goes through your mind?

ALLAN: Well, unfortunately, it's not really new or news. This is the longest in a string of reports - and actually, a bunch of reports this week - that have put a firm underline that countries are individually and they're collectively failing to act. They're failing to reduce emissions. They're failing to build resilience to the effects of climate change, and that developed countries are failing to support developing countries to help take those actions that maybe they couldn't afford. So year on year, we see new pledges. We see new promises. And what this report starkly shows is that all those pledges and all that talk is not being backed up by action. We're going to see maybe a 1% decrease in emissions by 2030 from all of the promises that we've seen on climate change in the last year.

MARTIN: Let's just underscore what you just said. We're likely to see a 1% decrease in greenhouse gas emissions. And the U.N. is saying that needs to go down by 45% in the same time period.

ALLAN: Exactly. We are barely putting a scratch in it. So maybe for useful context, if you think back to during the pandemic when there were stay-at-home orders - or here in the U.K., we had several national lockdowns - all of our lives changed a lot, you know? We were home. We weren't traveling around as much. That was actually just a blip in emissions. So that was a 7% decrease in emissions. And we need to go down 43. So we are talking about a really systemic difference and big transformation to how we get our energy, how we build our buildings, how we secure our food systems and where the financial sector puts its money.

MARTIN: So you just alluded to it, but the report says incremental change is definitely not going to cut it - hasn't until now, not going to help us get to this goal. Rapid transformation has to occur. But what does that practically look like?

ALLAN: Yeah. And that, I think, is sort of the challenge, is we're all struggling to collectively imagine what this might be. To my mind, this looks like collective responsibility in a way that it's all hands on deck. So every government department, every company will need to start seeing itself implicated in dealing with climate change. So whether that's talking about infrastructure or agriculture or regulating or incentivizing the financial sector, it means everyone has a role to play. And we have to start thinking about those tough choices to wean off fossil fuels that are embedded in our economic system.

It's not going to be easy. There also will have to be policies and thinking put in to, how do we make sure we don't leave anyone behind? If someone's worked their whole life in the fossil fuel sector, that doesn't mean that they shouldn't either have early retirement or have opportunity to have another equally well-paying job in the renewable, low-carbon economy. So there's a lot to think about here. But the main message of this report is, we have to start acting as well as trying to figure things out as we go.

MARTIN: So what do you do about the biggest emitters, I mean, when you think about China or India, countries that have pushed back against limits on coal, or the United States, which has had a hard time meeting its own climate goals?

ALLAN: Yeah. And every country's struggling to meet its own climate goals. That's certainly also what this report shows. Other reports have shown that countries are actually actively investing in fossil fuel infrastructure. So we're not really moving the same way across the board. So it's, you know - talking about China and India, they, too, have to be part of the solution. And we're looking into a new climate COP. And unfortunately, American and Chinese relations aren't great. And these major emitters will have to find a way to work together. They're the ones that will have to talk to each other, so they know what each other is going to do, and there isn't this concern about competition and competitive environment, economic concerns.

MARTIN: Dr. Jennifer Allan with the International Institute for Sustainable Development, thanks for your time.

ALLAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.