New Global Climate Assessment Aims to Gauge Progress

Global leaders in the battle against global warming convened in Bonn, Germany, on Monday for the start of the final phase of a two-year long assessment of the progress being made to limit rising temperatures.

The annual Bonn Climate Change Conference is part of the “global stocktake” — a process by which countries around the world assess how much progress has been made toward compliance with the 2015 Paris Agreement, a worldwide effort to prevent global temperatures from exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial era average.

“The global stocktake is an ambition exercise. It’s an accountability exercise. It’s an acceleration exercise,” U.N. Climate Change Executive Secretary Simon Stiell said in a statement. “It’s an exercise that is intended to make sure every Party is holding up their end of the bargain, knows where they need to go next and how rapidly they need to move to fulfill the goals of the Paris Agreement.”

However, Stiell warned that the findings will only be meaningful if they are paired with action.

“The global stocktake will end up being just another report unless governments and those that they represent can look at it and ultimately understand what it means for them and what they can and must do next. It’s the same for businesses, communities and other key stakeholders,” he said.

The stocktake will conclude in November, when the annual U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP28) is held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Stocktake process

The global stocktake is a two-year process that happens once every five years, as dictated by the Paris Agreement. It has three parts: an information collection and preparation phase, a technical assessment and a consideration of the process’s outputs.

The stocktake began in 2021, with countries, NGOs, experts and other stakeholders gathering information about efforts currently underway to slow global warming. This includes efforts by individual countries to meet the emission-reduction goals they have agreed to at previous COP gatherings — known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs) — as well as challenges and barriers to meeting those goals, and data about new mitigation techniques.

At last year’s Bonn Climate Conference, technical experts began to assess the findings, a process meant to be finalized over this year’s 10-day gathering.

The consideration of the findings will begin immediately following the conference and will be translated into recommendations for further action meant to be finalized in Dubai later this year.

No mystery

While the final details of the global stocktake will not be published until later this year, there is little mystery about what the process is likely to uncover. An interim report published in March found that progress has been “significant yet inadequate” in terms of reaching the goals set out in the Paris Agreement.

“While the remarkable speed with which the Paris Agreement entered into force in 2016 demonstrates a broad commitment, and Parties are making progress in implementation, we as a global community are not on track to meet its long-term goals,” the report found.

Still, experts said that there are reasons for optimism.

“The big value out of the global stocktake is that it’s also meant to be telling us not only where we are and where we need to be, but how to get there. What we’re hearing through the process so far is that there are solutions across all sectors and all [greenhouse] gases,” Maggie Ferrato, a manager for global climate cooperation at the Environmental Defense Fund, told VOA.

“And really the challenge is to kind of distill really clear signals from the wealth of information that’s out there on the highest impact opportunities that should be incorporated into Nationally Determined Contributions in the next round.”

More upbeat assessment

The Bonn Conference comes just a few weeks after a pair of reports from U.N.-affiliated research organizations painted grim pictures of the planet’s climate future.

In March, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that the planet is getting close to being unable to avoid a temperature increase of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius and predicted that more negative consequences of global climate change will soon become apparent. It said that the changes will frequently harm poor and vulnerable populations across the globe, many of which have contributed little to global warming.

Last month, the World Meteorological Organization issued a report that found a two-thirds chance the world will experience at least one year of temperatures averaging more than 1.5 degrees over the pre-industrial average within the next five years.

Michael Mehling, deputy director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told VOA that organizers of the Bonn Conference and of the COP process in general seem to realize unremitting gloom about the climate future may be doing more harm than good.

“I think there’s certainly a realization that just always saying, ‘We’re far behind. Everything looks terrible,’ is losing some impact,” he said.

Mehling said that he anticipates a report that recognizes that progress has been made and that achieving a less ambitious goal of keeping warming below 2 degrees — a level that scientists warn could be catastrophic — is achievable.

“I would probably anticipate some sort of a split message that suggests that we have to continue holding the line and staying [focused] on 2 degrees, but we can achieve that,” he said. “But it doesn’t look good for 1.5, unless we dramatically change what we’re doing. That’s what I expect to be the headline message.”

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