1.5°C “Almost Impossible” Without Deeper and Faster Cuts, Warns UNEP Emissions Gap Report
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Produced annually since 2010, the UNEP flagship report assesses the gap between anticipated emission levels in 2030 and levels consistent with a 2°C/1.5°C temperature target.

The 2019 report provides the first-ever estimate of annual cuts needed to stay on track with the Paris Agreement, and emphasizes that the levels of ambition in the Nationally Determined Contributions must increase at least fivefold for the 1.5°C goal and threefold for the 2°C goal.

The report concludes that, while difficult, climate change can still be limited to 1.5°C if sufficient momentum can be generated to take advantage of: technologies to support the energy transition; increased understanding of additional benefits of climate action in terms of health and the economy; and abundant examples of ambitious efforts from governments, cities, businesses and investors, “and the pressure and will to implement them”.

The 2019 UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Emissions Gap Report paints a “bleak” picture of accelerated global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and a growing gap between “what we need to do and what we are actually doing to tackle climate change.” Providing the first-ever estimate of annual cuts needed to achieve the Paris Agreement on climate change, the report emphasizes that even if the current climate commitments are met, the world is on course to exceed 3°C in global temperature rise, and calls for accelerated cuts in annual global emissions of 7.6% to meet the 1.5°C goal, and 2.7% for the 2°C goal.

The ‘Emissions Gap Report 2019’ presents the latest data on the expected gap in 2030 for the 1.5°C and 2°C temperature targets, exploring different scenarios, from no new climate policies since 2005 to full implementation of all national commitments under the Paris Agreement. In her introduction, UNEP Executive Director Inger Anderson highlights findings showing that total GHG emissions, including from land-use change, reached a new high of 55.3 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) in 2018. She underscores that this “collective failure” means that countries must set in motion “the radical transformations we need now, or face the consequences of a planet radically altered by climate change.”

The report estimates that to limit temperature rise, annual emissions in 2030 need to be 15 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent lower than current unconditional Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) imply for the 2°C goal; and 32 gigatonnes lower for the 1.5°C goal. It notes that to deliver on these cuts, the levels of ambition in the NDCs must increase at least fivefold for the 1.5°C goal and threefold for the 2°C goal.

The report’s findings correspond to conclusions by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) laid out in its 25 November 2019 Greenhouse Gas Bulletin, which finds a continuing long-term trend of record levels of heat-trapping GHGs in the atmosphere since global levels of CO2 “crossed the symbolic and significant 400 parts per million benchmark” in 2015.

Countries must set in motion the radical transformations we need now, or face the consequences of a planet radically altered by climate change.

Similar conclusions are highlighted in two recent special reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC): the Climate Change and Land report examining climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security and GHG fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems; and the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate report.

The 2019 Emissions Gap Report identifies two critical entry points for accelerating emissions reduction: decarbonization of the energy sector through renewables and energy efficiency, which could help reduce emissions by 12.1 Gt – or the equivalent of the annual output of nearly 2.5 million coal power stations – by 2050; and electrification of transport, which could reduce the sector’s carbon emissions by up to 72% in 2050.

The report concludes that, while difficult, climate change can still be limited to 1.5°C if sufficient momentum can be generated to take advantage of: technologies to support the energy transition; increased understanding of additional benefits of climate action in terms of health and the economy; and abundant examples of ambitious efforts from governments, cities, businesses and investors, “and the pressure and will to implement them.”

The key “headline” messages and conclusions of the report, include:

  • GHG emissions continue to rise, despite scientific warnings and political commitments;
  • To close the emissions gap by 2030, annual emissions need to be 15 GtCO2e lower than current unconditional NDCs imply for the 2°C goal, and 32 GtCO2e lower for the 1.5°C goal;
  • Enhanced action by G20 members will be essential for the global mitigation effort. Collectively, G20 members – who account for 78% of global GHG emissions – are on track to meet their limited 2020 Cancun Pledges, but seven countries are currently not on track to meet their 2030 NDC commitments.
  • “Dramatic strengthening” of the NDCs is needed in 2020. Countries must increase their NDC ambitions threefold to achieve the “well below 2°C” goal and more than fivefold to achieve the 1.5°C goal.
  • Although the number of countries announcing net zero GHG emission targets for 2050 is increasing, only a few countries have so far formally submitted long-term low-emission development strategies to the UNFCCC.
  • Decarbonizing the global economy will require fundamental structural changes, which should be designed to bring multiple co-benefits for humanity and planetary support systems.
  • Renewables and energy efficiency, in combination with electrification of end uses, are key to a successful energy transition and to driving down energy-related CO2 emissions.
  • Demand-side material efficiency offers substantial GHG mitigation opportunities that are complementary to those obtained through an energy system transformation.

The Emissions Gap Report is UNEP’s annual flagship report that assesses the “emissions gap” – the gap between anticipated emission levels in 2030 and levels consistent with a 2°C/1.5°C target. Each year, the report analyzes the potential of specific sectors to deliver emissions cuts, with the 2019 report focusing on the energy transition. The report also marks the tenth anniversary of the publication, which also outlines key opportunities at sector and country level to close the emissions gap. The publication was released ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference taking place in Madrid, Spain, from 2-13 December 2019. [Publication: UN Environment Programme Emissions Gap Report 2019] [Executive Summary] [Publication Landing Page] [Report Interactive Webpage] [UNEP Press Release] [UNFCCC Press Release] [UN Press Release] [10 Things to Know about the Emissions Gap Report 2019] [SDG Knowledge Hub story on 2018 Emissions Gap Report]


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