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Latest UN Emissions Gap Report finds world must ramp up climate ambitions at least threefold to meet Paris goals

  • The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released its latest Emissions Gap Report on the eve of the climate negotiations that kicked off Monday in Madrid, Spain. According to the report, the nearly 200 countries that signed the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015 must boost their emissions-reduction ambitions by at least threefold to meet the targets adopted in the agreement.
  • The Emissions Gap Report 2019 finds that total greenhouse gas emissions have risen by 1.5 percent per year over the past decade, and that even if all current commitments made under the Paris Agreement were implemented, global temperatures would rise by 3.2°C.
  • Global greenhouse gas emissions would have to be reduced by some 32 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent by 2030, or 7.6 percent every year between 2020 and 2030, in order to reach the 1.5°C target, the Emissions Gap Report states. That would require a five-fold increase in countries’ emissions reduction commitments. Even limiting global warming to 2°C would require a 15-gigatonnes reduction in emissions, or 2.7 percent per year, by 2030. Countries would have to ratchet up their emissions reductions commitments threefold to meet the 2°C target.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released its latest Emissions Gap Report on the eve of the climate negotiations that kicked off Monday in Madrid, Spain. According to the report, the nearly 200 countries that signed the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015 must boost their emissions-reduction ambitions by at least threefold to meet the targets adopted in the agreement.

The Paris Agreement set the goal of limiting average global temperature rise to “well below 2°C,” and included 1.5°C of temperature rise as an additional, essentially aspirational, target. In signing the agreement, countries also agreed to ramp up their emissions reductions pledges, known as “Nationally Determined Contributions” or NDCs, every five years. That means that next year’s climate summit, to be held in Glasgow, Scotland, will be the first time countries are due to take stock of progress toward the Paris goals and strengthen their emissions reduction pledges accordingly.

The Emissions Gap Report 2019 finds that total greenhouse gas emissions have risen by 1.5 percent per year over the past decade, and that even if all current commitments made under the Paris Agreement were implemented, global temperatures would rise by 3.2°C and the world would face a much wider range of even more destructive impacts of global climate change than we’re experiencing now.

A report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) last year warned that climate impacts like heatwaves and severe weather, as well as risks to economies, food security, human health, livelihoods, and the world’s water supply, will increase dramatically if global warming reaches 1.5°C. Impacts on biodiversity and ecosystems, such as species loss and extinction, would increase as well.

Global greenhouse gas emissions would have to be reduced by some 32 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent by 2030, or 7.6 percent every year between 2020 and 2030, in order to reach the 1.5°C target, the Emissions Gap Report states. That would require a five-fold increase in countries’ emissions reduction commitments. Even limiting global warming to 2°C would require a 15-gigatonnes reduction in emissions, or 2.7 percent per year, by 2030. Countries would have to ratchet up their emissions reductions commitments threefold to meet the 2°C target.

All but one of the G20 nations have committed to full implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement. (The United States is the lone outlier; President Trump withdrew the US from the Paris Agreement in 2017.) However, the UNEP report finds that, while G20 nations collectively account for 78 percent of all global emissions, just five G20 members have actually committed to a long-term zero emissions target.

Inger Andersen, UNEP’s Executive Director, said that it is still possible to meet the Paris Climate Agreement’s targets, but that solutions must be deployed at a much faster rate and at a much larger scale.

“Our collective failure to act early and hard on climate change means we now must deliver deep cuts to emissions — over 7 per cent each year, if we break it down evenly over the next decade,” Andersen said in a statement. “This shows that countries simply cannot wait until the end of 2020, when new climate commitments are due, to step up action. They — and every city, region, business and individual — need to act now.”

She added: “We need quick wins to reduce emissions as much as possible in 2020, then stronger Nationally Determined Contributions to kick-start the major transformations of economies and societies. We need to catch up on the years in which we procrastinated. If we don’t do this, the 1.5°C goal will be out of reach before 2030.”

The agenda for the climate negotiations currently underway in Madrid — known as COP25 because it is the 25th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change — doesn’t inspire much confidence in observers that the 196 signatories to the Paris accord are planning on leveling up their ambitions this year, Mongabay’s Justin Catanoso reports.

Still, the UNEP report, the tenth annual Emissions Gap Report issued by the agency, finds that there is yet hope that the world can rein in global warming and avert a full-blown climate catastrophe:

“The summary findings are bleak. Countries collectively failed to stop the growth in global [greenhouse gas] emissions, meaning that deeper and faster cuts are now required. However, behind the grim headlines, a more differentiated message emerges from the ten-year summary. A number of encouraging developments have taken place and the political focus on the climate crisis is growing in several countries, with voters and protestors, particularly youth, making it clear that it is their number one issue. In addition, the technologies for rapid and cost-effective emission reductions have improved significantly.”

Average global temperatures from 2014 to 2018 compared to a baseline average from 1951 to 1980. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

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