Climate Change

Countries must make serious emission cuts, reiterates UN report

Released ahead of the Conference of Parties next week, the Emissions Gap Report has revealed that even with current national commitments fulfilled, only 57 countries would have hit peak emissions

By Vijeta Rattani
Published: Wednesday 28 November 2018
The Emission Gap Report says that the G-20, including the US and the European Union are not on track to reach their Nationally Determined Contributions by 2030. Photo of the town of Columbus, Texas flooded by Hurricane Harvey. Credit: Getty Images

Countries must make serious emission cuts if global warming has to be limited, warns a new United Nations report.

Ahead of the 24th meeting of the Conference of Parties (CoP) scheduled to start in Katowice, Poland next week, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has released its latest annual Emissions Gap Report, which has contributions from scientists worldwide to assess the “gap” between the current mitigation efforts and ambitions made by countries globally to the level required to limit warming well below 2°C.

The report paints a stark picture of the increasing trends in global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and the dismal country-wise progress towards climate pledges and nationally determined contributions (NDCs). The report also focuses on the role and potential impact of non-state, sub-national actors (namely states, cities, regions, companies and investors) and fiscal policy in bridging the emissions gap.

State of global emissions

The slowdown of GHG emissions during 2014-2016 mustered positive optimism in many who thought it was a possible indication of a global peaking of emissions. But that optimism was unfortunately short-lived. The report states that in 2017, global GHG emissions (excluding emissions from land-use change) reached a record 49.2 GtCO2e (or GigatonneCarbondioxideequivalent), an increase of 1.1 per cent compared to the previous year, with an increase in 1.2 per cent of CO2 emissions from the fossil fuels, industry and cement sectors.

Reaffirming one of the findings from the recently-released Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C, the report states that implementing current conditional and unconditional NDCs would lead to a global mean temperature rise of about 3- 3.2°C by 2100, relative to pre-industrial levels respectively. The report also finds that even with current national commitments fulfilled, only 57 countries (representing 60 per cent of global emissions) would have hit peak emissions by 2030—and this is not enough by any means to limit warming to 2°C, let alone 1.5°C.

To limit global warming to 2°C and 1.5°C, the report underlines the need for serious cuts in global emissions and a drastic increase in NDC ambition. With a global peaking of emissions required to occur by 2020, global GHG emissions by 2030 have to be approximately 25 per cent and 55 per cent lower than in 2017, so as to limit global warming to 2°C and 1.5°C respectively. The report also states that the level of ambition in NDCs needs to be roughly tripled for the 2°C scenario (approximately 13-15 GtCO2e) and increased around five-fold for the 1.5°C scenario (approximately 29-32 GtCO2e).

What are nations doing?

The report brings out that the richest group of countries or the G-20, including the US and the European Union are not on track to reach their NDCs by 2030 and would require aggressive policies to collectively peak their emissions by 2030. For India, the emissions are projected to be more than 10 per cent below their unconditional NDC target. Thus, with its currently-implemented policies, India is likely to achieve its Cancun pledge of 2020 and conditional NDC targets and even over-achieve its emissions intensity reduction target. But this is also because of the low level of ambition as stated in its NDC.

While staying within safe temperature limits may seem daunting, the report points out that it is technically and economically feasible. In sync with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or IPCC’s 1.5°C report, this report also recommends the closing of the emission gap by 2030 failing which, it would be unlikely to stay within 2°C. To effectively bring down emissions, the report identifies technical potential present primarily in three broad areas: renewable energy (wind and solar), energy-efficient appliances and cars, and encouraging afforestation and stopping deforestation.

Role of non-state actors and fiscal policy

By focusing on the role that non-state actors can play in delivering national pledges and showcasing their mitigation action until date, the report presents some room for optimism in addressing the emission gap. According to the report, more than 7,000 cities from 133 countries and 245 regions from 42 countries, along with more than 6,000 companies with at least $ 36 trillion in revenue, have pledged mitigation action. While the impact of current individual non-state actor pledges on reducing the gap is extremely limited—approximately 0.45 GtCO2e/year by 2030, their impact can be considerable compared to current policy if scaled to the fullest potential—up to 19 GtCO2e/year by 2030. Their role could be crucial in bridging the emission gap to 2°C pathways.

The report also advocates implementing fiscal policy measures such as carbon pricing and taxes as effective ways in reducing emissions and costs of mitigating it. For instance, the report finds that a carbon tax of US$70/tCO2, in addition to existing measures, could reduce emissions from above 10 per cent in some countries to more than 40 per cent in other countries. In fact, such a carbon tax could raise the equivalent of 2 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) in public revenue in developing countries. The phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies would also lead to a 10 per cent reduction of global emissions by 2030.

The message of the Emission Gap Report is clear—we need to make radical and transformational change. Technically and economically, the solutions are present and opportunities for limiting warming to 1.5°C abound, as the report suggests. What is missing is the will to act, and that is what will ultimately bridge the emission gap to a 2°C or 1.5°C pathway. It would be useful to see if such scientific reports are able to generate positive momentum for ratcheting ambition at Katowice.

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