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The World’s Climate Targets: Major Steps Toward our Climate Goals

We now have an opportunity to take a big step toward the goal of an ambitious and effective global framework for addressing climate change.

As President Obama noted on his recent trip to Alaska, urgent action on climate change is essential for the health, security, and well-being of Americans and people around the world. That’s why we’ve been taking unprecedented actions to reduce our own emissions at home while working with the international community to build a durable framework for reducing emissions globally.

We now have an opportunity to take a big step toward the goal of an ambitious and effective global framework for addressing climate change. In less than a month, more than 190 countries will converge in Paris to finalize a new global climate agreement. We’ve learned the lessons of previous rounds, including the importance of encouraging countries to take the lead in developing their own targets for curbing emissions and putting those plans forward early.

This strategy has been highly successful so far. The emphasis on transparency and nationally-determined ambition has pushed countries to put their best foot forward and make clear how they’re contributing to securing a sustainable world for future generations. We now have post-2020 climate action pledges on the table from more than 150 countries representing nearly 90% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

With the negotiations in Paris just weeks away, many people want to understand what these targets add up to and whether this action is enough to limit global warming to the goal we have all been aiming for -- below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Today, the United Nations published a report on the aggregate effect of the climate action pledges on the table, providing a valuable opportunity for people around the world to take stock and consider the road ahead.

The UN report shows that the pledges submitted so far represent a substantial step up in global action and will significantly bend down the world’s carbon pollution trajectory. The targets are projected to significantly slow the annual growth rate in emissions – including a major decrease in rate compared to the most recent decade. The UN report estimates that the targets, if implemented fully, could reduce global emissions by over 7 billion tons per year of carbon pollution in 2030 compared to business as usual.

Given that rapidly growing – and accelerating – global emissions have been a consistent trend in the last century, this signals that we have reached an inflection point in our commitment to address climate change. The targets establish a new, lower global emissions trajectory that will enable a plateau of emissions soon after 2030. In addition, they set the foundation for keeping warming below 2 degrees and avoiding the most dangerous possible outcomes from climate change.

By deepening global ambition, the 2025 and 2030 targets put forward to date will be a crucial step in our efforts to limit warming to below 2°C. The UN report also makes clear that this next round of targets is only the next step. Avoiding dangerous climate change also depends on countries continuing to strengthen their actions over time. That’s why we are working hard to secure an agreement in Paris that will encourage all nations to ratchet up their ambition and ratchet down their emissions over the course of the coming decades, setting targets in regular five-year increments with the help of strong transparency and accountability mechanisms.

Like other global challenges, climate change won’t be solved all at once. No single action, no single government, and no single summit will decisively address one of the greatest threats of our time. But an ambitious agreement in Paris would be a turning point. It would show countries that if they act, their partners and competitors will do so as well. And it would send a clear signal that nations are committed to tackling climate change and that there is no going back.

Paul Bodnar is the Senior Director for Energy and Climate Change on the National Security Council