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The Pope’s Not Going To Like How Far We Are From Our Climate Change Goals

In his much-anticipated encyclical on climate change, released Thursday, Pope Francis turned scientists’ pleas to stop global warming into a moral imperative. “The warming caused by huge consumption on the part of some rich countries has repercussions on the poorest areas of the world,” he wrote, arguing that developed countries have a responsibility to pull back on emissions that hit the developing world especially hard.

The pope didn’t embrace any specific climate goal, but the world has one: preventing global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. We’re not likely to meet that challenge.

The Climate Action Tracker provides an independent scientific analysis of that goal, and with the next global climate conference coming in December in Paris, the group has rated the plans submitted so far by nations participating in the talks. The CAT rating system, shown below, rates these pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on a scale from “inadequate” to “role model.”


None of the 12 governments that have submitted or announced their emissions plans have received a “role model” rating, and only one — Morocco — has earned a “sufficient” rating. Six governments’ plans have earned a “medium” designation — Switzerland, the EU, Norway, Mexico, the U.S. and China. Countries in the “inadequate” group include the Russian Federation, Canada, Japan, Chile and South Korea. Of course, these nations represent only the ones that have taken the first step of submitting or announcing a formal pledge.

Taken together, this means we’re facing a huge gap between the 2 degree Celsius goal and the action needed to get there. The CAT analysis shows that current policy pledges will produce warming far in excess of that target. Although some are calling the pope’s call to action too radical, the numbers show that if we’re to keep the climate cool, the actions countries have pledged so far are not radical enough.

Correction, 6 p.m., June 21, 2015: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the world had embraced a goal of preventing global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2020. The goal is actually to keep temperatures below that limit into the future.

Christie Aschwanden was a lead science writer for FiveThirtyEight. Her book “Good to Go: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn from the Strange Science of Recovery” is available here.