Climate contradictions key at UN talks. Less future warming projected, yet there’s more current pain

FILE - A coal-fired power plant operates near wind turbines Niederaussem, Germany, as the sun rises on Nov. 2, 2022. Climate negotiators gather in Dubai for marathon United Nations talks that include a first-ever assessment of how well the world is doing in its battle against global warming. (AP Photo/Michael Probst, File)

Guohua Power Station, a coal-fired power plant, operates as people sell items on a street in Dingzhou, Baoding, in the northern China's Hebei province, Friday, Nov. 10, 2023. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

The world is heading for considerably less warming than projected a decade ago, but that good news is overwhelmed by much more pain from current climate change than scientists anticipated, experts said.

That’s just one of a set of seemingly contradictory conditions facing climate negotiators who this week gather in Dubai for marathon United Nations talks that include a first-ever assessment of how well the world is doing in its battle against global warming. It’s also a conference where one of the central topics will be whether fossil fuels should be phased out, but it will be run by the CEO of an oil company.


Key to the session is the first “global stocktake” on climate, when countries look at what’s happened since the 2015 Paris climate agreement, how off-track it is and probably say what’s needed to get back on track.

Even though emissions of heat-trapping gases are still rising every year, they’re rising more slowly than projected from 2000 to 2015. Before the Paris deal, scientists at Climate Action Tracker and the United Nations Environment Programme were projecting about 3.5 degrees Celsius (6.3 degrees Fahrenheit) of warming over pre-industrial levels based on how much carbon dioxide countries were spewing and what they planned to do about it.

That 3.5 “is totally out of the picture. It will not happen,” said NewClimate Institute scientist Niklas Hohne, who works on Climate Action Tracker. “Our number is 2.7 (4.9 degrees Fahrenheit). It could be even lower with pledges and with net zero targets.”

UNEP’s Emissions Gap projected 2.5 to 2.9 degrees (4.5 to 5.2 degrees Fahrenheit). The global goal is 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).

Countries are promising and even starting on actions that should eventually reduce emissions, but those cuts haven’t materialized yet, said Climate Analytics CEO Bill Hare, also of Climate Action Tracker.

“So things aren’t as bad as they could have been or as we worried they might be 20 years ago, but they’re still far from where we need to be,” said Stanford University climate scientist Rob Jackson, who heads scientists who annual track world emissions in the Global Carbon Project.

When he looks at the impacts of just 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit) of warming — about what the world has gotten so far — World Resources Institute CEO Ani Dasgupta said he wants to scream from the rooftops about how “unfair and unequal the devastation is.”

“No one who has half a brain can be happy where we are,” Dasgupta said.

Scientists underestimated for decades how much destruction just a little warming would cause, several scientists said. And that damage we are feeling far outweighs the gains made in reducing future warming projections, they said.

Hare points to more than 60,000 heat deaths in Europe in 2022. Others point to thousands dead from flooding in Pakistan and Libya.

“The more we know, the more severe impacts we see at lower temperature changes,” said Anne Olhoff, chief author of the UNEP Emissions Gap report. “The impacts happen much faster than we thought previously and much harder than we thought previously.”

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