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World falling well short of climate goals, new report finds

© Jonathan Irish

The results are in on the world’s first climate change progress report: Drastic improvement is needed — and fast.

The report, released Friday, is the technical synthesis report from the Paris Agreement’s Global Stocktake process, which is designed to evaluate the global response to the climate crisis every five years. The report will inform critical decisions at the upcoming U.N. Climate Change Conference in Dubai, known as COP28.

Conservationists pointed to the report as just the latest proof that more urgent action is needed. 

“As our world warms, every tenth of a degree matters, and we must be sprinting toward net-zero — but today’s report suggests we have barely started walking,” said Lina Barrera, vice president of international policy at Conservation International. 

In short, the report calls for urgently implementing drastic emissions reductions across all sectors, and shifting trillions of dollars in global investment toward low-emissions, climate-resilient development.

The dire findings came as no surprise amid a string of warnings that the world’s efforts to curb climate change are falling far short. Still, according to Conservation International climate policy expert Kiryssa Kasprzyk, there is some room for optimism.

Conservation News sat down with Kasprzyk to unpack the findings from the global stocktake report and, most importantly, what comes next.

Conservation News: To start, what is a “global stocktake” report and why does it matter?

Kiryssa Kasprzyk: Put simply, this report takes stock of how countries are delivering on the climate goals set by the Paris Agreement in 2015, which has three main elements: cutting greenhouse gas emissions and pursing efforts to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit); strengthening countries’ ability to deal with the ways climate change is altering our lives; and aligning global finance to pay for climate action.

The global stocktake process is essentially a performance review. It assesses where the world is falling short on meeting climate goals and offers insights into how we can move them forward. Now that the report is released, countries will use the information to agree on next steps needed to course correct at COP28 — and then, ideally, create more ambitious climate targets and plans to meet them. 

What does the report say?

KK: Essentially, it says that we are not doing enough to prevent catastrophic climate change. Our window to limit warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels is rapidly narrowing but it is still possible if we move quickly. The stocktake report points to scaling renewable energy, phasing out fossil fuels, and ending deforestation as key solutions, yet notes significant challenges such as continued investments in fossil fuels and the persistently high rate of deforestation. 

The stocktake report underscores the fact that nature is an essential part of climate mitigation, stating that “halting and reversing deforestation and degradation and improving agricultural practices are critical to reducing emissions and conserving and enhancing carbon sinks.” The report also goes in depth on efforts to adapt to the effects of climate change — a fundamental reality of life now noting that nature-based adaptation is an effective approach. 

It is also clear that we need a significant mobilization of finance, including money to address losses and damages in countries most affected by climate change. While there is sufficient global capital for climate action, as the report puts it, redirecting this capital will require “transforming the international financial system.” Ending ecosystem conversion is one of the least-cost solutions highlighted in the report. 

Finally, the report highlights the need to center climate action around equity and inclusion, pointing to the role of Indigenous peoples, local communities, women and youth in establishing and implementing these changes. This isn’t only a moral imperative, but a practical one — pairing modern science with traditional knowledge systems will be critical to advancing progress at the pace we need.

So we know where we stand — what now?

KK: In November, at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Dubai, countries will decide how to respond to the shortcomings laid out in the report — and how to move forward on critical goals like limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. 

Importantly, the stocktake report is clear that we cannot stop a climate crisis without conserving ecosystems and shifting our food systems, setting a solid foundation for countries to call for urgent, nature-based climate action. 

To help countries understand specific pathways for how nature can help avert climate breakdown, Conservation International has developed the Exponential Roadmap for Natural Climate Solutions, a guide for maximizing nature’s role in tackling climate change. The roadmap lays out how the land sector — which includes agriculture and forestry — can reach net zero emissions by 2030, which is needed to keep 1.5 degrees within reach. That is a faster transition than needed for any other sector. 

Countries have struggled to reduce the climate impacts of agriculture, which is the largest driver of deforestation. The roadmap recommends a variety of climate-smart techniques we can turn to, including adding trees along the edges of croplands and pastures to provide carbon-storing benefits, practicing rotational grazing to minimize soil erosion, and seeding pastures with legumes to improve soil fertility and carbon absorption. Importantly, none of these solutions affects food security. 

You mentioned the finance gap — why are climate solutions rooted in nature chronically underfunded?

KK: A recent U.N. report found that the world will not reach its climate and biodiversity goals unless financing more than doubles, to US$ 384 billion annually, by 2025. But despite growing awareness of nature’s role as a powerful climate ally, funding has not kept pace. Estimates say the funding gap for nature is anywhere from 10 to 31 times larger than sectors such as energy and transportation.

Business opportunities are clearer for the energy transition, such as selling electric vehicles and installing solar power. But when it comes to nature, it can be hard for investors to see returns on investment that are larger than the opportunity cost of, say, cutting down a forest for agriculture. Instead, we have needed to design tools that create financial incentives to protect nature, such as carbon markets and REDD+, which help make trees more valuable alive than dead – and provide needed income for Indigenous peoples and local communities. We’ll need to continue to make the case for the economic benefits nature can provide to local communities and businesses’ bottom lines, while also pursuing innovative finance opportunities like green bonds to finance environmentally friendly projects, or debt-for-nature swaps, which enable countries to trade their debt in exchange for funds to protect nature.

This report is a sobering reminder that we need to do much more to prevent catastrophic climate change. What brings you hope?

KK: There’s no question the report is sobering, but it’s not a eulogy. The pace of climate action is speeding up, and our persistent calls for increased ambition are working. The report shows that strengthened national climate commitments between the last two climate conferences closed the ambition gap by about 0.3 degrees Celsius. That may seem tiny, but it’s not: Every fraction of a degree means lives saved, livelihoods sustained and ecosystems left intact.

People are already seeing the economic benefits of climate action in their communities. I’m thinking specifically of recent investments in the US through the Inflation Reduction Act, but there are so many examples of our work at Conservation International benefiting the climate along with improved community livelihoods. This is crucial to dispelling the myth that climate action will “destroy the economy.” 

Finally, we’re starting to see more serious buy-in from the private sector. When we pair significant private-sector investment with government financing, we’ll unlock funding at the scale we need. I’m confident we’re on our way.

Mary Kate McCoy is a staff writer at Conservation International. Max Marcovitch also contributed to this story. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates. Also, please consider supporting our critical work