The final text from COP28 is a death knell for the stronger 1.5°C commitment of the Paris Agreement and even puts the much weaker 2°C obligation on critical life-support. No doubt there will be lots of cheer and back-slapping among many pontificators and even some climate ‘experts’, but the physics will not care. As the new agreement locks in high levels of emissions for years to come, so the temperature will continue to rise.
To add a bit of science and maths to this harsh assessment, we have between five and eight years of current emissions before we blow through the carbon budget for just a flip-of-a-coin chance of not exceeding 1.5°C. Even if we seriously began to cut emissions from the start of 2024, and there’s no such requirement in the new text, then we’d still need zero fossil fuel use, globally, by around 2040. Throw in a few years of political and technical inertia as we pivot from rising to rapidly falling emissions, and we’re really talking about eliminating fossil fuels by the mid 2030s. This is far removed from the fraudulent language of net zero by 2050.
So, what about “well below 2°C”? Well, to start, this means far more severe climate impacts and a significant risk that we’ll trigger various planetary scale feedbacks or tipping points. In terms of global emissions, we would still require cuts from January 2024 of over 5% year on year. Put another way, if all nations deliver on their emission-reduction pledges (NDCs), then in 2030 the remaining carbon budget for 2°C will be similar to what we have left for a 50:50 chance of 1.5°C today; a budget many / most analysts consider is no longer viable.
The climate challenge we face today is 40 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide harder than it was last year, and around one third of a trillion tonnes more difficult than at the time of the Paris Agreement. COP28 might well have been appropriate if it had taken place in 2000, but in 2023 it falls far short of our Paris temperature and equity commitments. The time for polish, rhetoric and applause is long gone. We face a climate emergency that the COP process appears simply unwilling or unable to address.
For more details on remaining emissions budgets, please see How Alive Is 1.5?
Part One – A Small Budget, Shrinking Fast.