The biggest takeaway from two weeks of climate negotiations in Poland is simple, if breathtaking: climate change is such a massive and existential issue that it can only be effectively dealt with by major nation heads of state, not just a collection of 195 environment ministers.
Yes, the basic rules for accounting, monitoring and verification of emissions were agreed to in Poland. These are important, so that all nations can judge whether other countries are on track to make emissions cuts as they have pledged. Ministers deserve real credit for delivering on this. But getting “the Paris rules” right, while necessary, does not begin the harder work of actually cutting emissions, and so is hardly sufficient progress to address the climate crisis, for two key reasons.
First, the largest emitting nations are not even close to on track to meet their Paris pledges. In fact, rather than falling, global CO2 emissions grew by 1.6 percent in 2017 and are projected to increase by 2.7 percent this year. The world’s largest emitter, China, saw its CO2 emissions grow by about 5 percent in 2018. And after steadily falling in previous years under President Obama, U.S. emissions are set to rise by 2.5 percent this year under President Trump. E.U. CO2 output did fall by about 1 percent this year, but rose in 2017 by an equal amount, and Indian emissions rose by more than 6 percent, as did emissions of many other countries.
Second, even if all the Paris emissions pledges were achieved, they would still push global average temperatures up at least 3.5 Celsius, far above even remotely safe levels. In fact, new science is showing us that temperatures that high will be catastrophic, leading to massive sea level rise, agricultural disruptions, more droughts, floods, fires, infectious disease and other extreme impacts.