As the United Nations climate summit neared its halfway mark, the Biden administration on Friday tried to strike a balance between lauding the new promises that countries have made this week to curb emissions and warning that they still need to do far more to avert the worst impacts of global warming.
“Let me emphasize as strongly as I can: Job not done,” John Kerry, President Biden’s special envoy on climate change, said at a news conference in Glasgow on Friday. “We all need to be pressing our ambition going forward. But this is doable if we follow through.”
The first week of the climate summit saw a flurry of new climate pledges. India vowed to reach net-zero emissions by 2070, the first time it has set such a target. At least 105 countries signed an agreement to slash emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, by 30 percent this decade. Major financial institutions said they would use their resources to fund a shift to clean energy.
On paper, at least, those promises appear significant. The International Energy Agency issued an analysis on Thursday suggesting that if nations followed through on their newest climate pledges and long-term plans, the world could potentially limit global warming to 1.8 degrees Celsius, or 3.2 degrees Fahrenheit, above preindustrial levels by 2100.
That would still fall considerably short of holding warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the threshold beyond which many scientists say the planet will experience catastrophic effects from heat waves, droughts, wildfires and flooding. (The planet has already warmed 1.1 degrees.) But it would put the world much closer to that goal than before.
Yet the agency’s analysis comes with huge caveats. It assumes that dozens of countries, including China, Brazil, Australia and Saudi Arabia, will all fulfill their promises of reaching net zero emissions by around midcentury. Many of those nations have still not put in place concrete policies or even detailed plans to cut emissions sharply this decade and stay on track to achieve those goals.
“Governments are making bold promises for future decades, but short-term action is insufficient,” wrote Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency.
Mr. Kerry acknowledged that many of the promises being put forward at Glasgow were still only that — promises. “The words don’t mean enough unless they are implemented,” he said. “All of us have seen years of frustration for promises that are made but not kept. We understand that. But I believe what is happening here is far from business as usual.
“The alternative,” he said, “is you don’t say anything, you don’t do anything, you don’t have any promises or commitments, and you’re sitting there just waiting for the deluge.”
The climate summit has been overshadowed by the fact that some major leaders have not shown up in person, including President Xi Jinping of China, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.
But Mr. Kerry said that he was continuing to talk with representatives from both countries at Glasgow in the hopes of finding “a way to try to move forward.”
“Are we going to have all countries at the sufficient level we need at the end of this next week? No. And we know that,” he said. “But we do know that we could have a critical mass of countries moving in a way that keeps” the goal of 1.5 degrees “alive.”
At a New York Times climate event in Glasgow, Mr. Kerry on Friday said that stakes at this conference could not be higher. Still, he said, he was hopeful, given the technological advancements, including new satellite systems that provide measurements of methane and carbon dioxide emissions, that allow for the mapping emissions from companies and countries.
“That availability coupled with the money means we have a new level of accountability,” Mr. Kerry said. “Moreover, there’s a reality in many of these programs and pledges being made that we’ve never seen before.”