31 October 2017: UN Environment (UNEP) released its ‘Emissions Gap Report 2017,’ which argues that governments and non-state actors must increase their ambition to ensure the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change can be met. In addition, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) published its annual Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Bulletin, which states that atmospheric CO2 concentrations surged to their highest level in 800,000 years. The two reports were released in advance of the UN Climate Change Conference taking place from 6-17 November in Bonn, Germany.

‘The Emissions Gap Report’ finds that national pledges will only lead to a third of the emission reductions required to be on the least-cost pathway for the goal of staying well below 2°C, noting that “the gap between the reductions needed and the national pledges made in Paris is alarmingly high.” It concludes that full implementation of current Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) will likely lead to a temperature increase of at least 3°C by 2100, and recommends that governments increase their ambition when revising their NDCs in 2020.

The report details ways to reduce emissions through expanding mitigation action based on existing options in the agriculture, buildings, energy, forestry, industry and transport sectors. In addition, it addresses other climate forcers that could contribute to emission reductions, such as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) through the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, and other short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) such as black carbon. The report describes how reducing SLCPs would contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including SDG 3 (good health and well-being), SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy) and SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities), among others.

The WMO GHG Bulletin indicates that atmospheric change is happening 10 to 20 times faster than ever before, and that the last time the Earth experienced a such high atmospheric concentrations of CO2 was 3-5 million years ago.

The report emphasizes that investing in technology is crucial, and notes that investment in solar and wind energy, efficient appliances and cars, and afforestation could cut up to 22 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) by 2030, which would make the 2°C target attainable. The report also explains that, while CO2 emissions have remained stable since 2014, driven in part by renewable energy use in China and India, other GHGs, such as methane, are still on the rise, and increased global economic growth could return CO2 emissions to an upward trajectory.

The report states that actions by non-state and sub-national bodies could reduce the 2030 emissions gap, with the world’s 100 largest emitting publicly-traded companies, for example, accounting for 25% of global GHG emissions. The report recommends avoiding new coal-fired power plants and phasing out existing plants. It also lays out options related to negative emissions technologies, including those that remove CO2 from the atmosphere through afforestation, reforestation, forest management, restoration of degraded lands and soil carbon enhancement. [Emissions Gap Report 2017: A UN Environment Synthesis Report] [Emissions Gap Report Landing Page] [UN Environment Press Release] [UNFCCC Press Release]

Released the day before the launch of the ‘Emissions Gap Report,’ WMO’s annual GHG Bulletin points to unprecedented abrupt changes in the atmosphere over the past 70 years. It explains that CO2 concentrations reached 403.3 parts per million (ppm) in 2016, up from 400 ppm in 2015, due to human activities and a strong El Niño event in 2016, and are now 145% of preindustrial levels. The report indicates that atmospheric change is happening 10 to 20 times faster than ever before, and that the last time the Earth experienced a such high atmospheric concentrations of CO2 was 3-5 million years ago.

The report warns that such rapidly increasing atmospheric levels of CO2 and other GHGs could lead to unprecedented changes in the climate system and “severe ecological and economic disruptions.” According the report, atmospheric methane (CH4) concentrations reached a new high in 2016 at 1,853 parts per billion (ppb) and are now 257% of preindustrial levels, while nitrous oxide (N2O) concentrations in 2016 were 328.9 ppb, or 122% of preindustrial levels.

The WMO GHG Bulletin is based on observations from the WMO Global Atmosphere Watch Programme. [WMO GHG Bulletin] [WMO Press Release] [UNFCCC Press Release] [UN Blog Post]