UN climate chief: Pledges by big polluters boost Paris hopes

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Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

FILE - In this Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017 file photo, Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, smiles in the U.S. Climate Action Center during the "AMERICA'S PLEDGE" and "WE ARE STILL IN" campaign at the COP 23 Fiji UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany. The U.N.s climate chief Patricia Espinosa says deadlines set by some of the world's top polluters to end greenhouse gas emissions, along with president-elect Joe Biden's pledge to take the United States back into the Paris accord, have boosted hopes of meeting the pact's ambitious goals. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, File)

BERLIN – The U.N.’s climate chief says deadlines set by some of the world’s top polluters to end greenhouse gas emissions, along with U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s pledge to take Washington back into the Paris accord, have boosted hopes of meeting the pact’s ambitious goals.

The agreement signed in the French capital five years ago aims to keep global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) — ideally no more than 1.5 C (2.7 Fahrenheit) — compared to pre-industrial times by the end of the century. Experts say the world is far off track and that, with average temperatures already up by about 1 C (2 Fahrenheit), drastic action is needed in the next 30 years.

But the recent announcement by China, the world's top polluter, that it will phase out emissions by 2060, and pledges by Japan and South Korea to do the same a decade earlier, have drawn cautious optimism from climate campaigners. Their hopes were further boosted by Biden's election win earlier this month and his pledge to undo President Donald Trump's withdrawal from the Paris agreement.

“These announcements are really extraordinary,” Patricia Espinosa, head of the U.N. climate office, told The Associated Press. “Just a few months ago, I don’t think anybody would have really predicted that we would see these kinds of announcements at this time. And especially in the middle of the pandemic.”

Espinosa said countries' willingness to commit to tougher emissions limits shows that curbing global warming remains a political priority — and that the target set in Paris is a possibility.

“Science has told us that we still have a chance to achieve it," she said. "Looking at these announcements, I think that we should be also having even more hope.”

But Espinosa cautioned against complacency. “I don’t want to sound like it’s a done deal,” she said. “We are still far from there.”

The pandemic brought a sudden halt to the U.N.'s carousel of climate meetings, disrupting complex negotiations on a wide range of environmental issues and forcing the cancellation of the global body's annual climate summit for the first time in a quarter century.