Carbon Brief: GHG remissions remain far off track for global climate goals. Emissions are still going up. A large gap remains to get on a 2 C path and nearly twice the reductions are necessary for 1.5 C. https://www.carbonbrief.org/unep-net-zero-pledges-provide-an-opening-to-close-growing-emissions-gap
Median emission scenarios adapted from the report’s figure 3.1. Red line shows a scenario with no new climate policies after 2005, orange shows existing policies already implemented by governments, yellow and light blue lines show additional conditional and unconditional NDCs, blue line shows emissions consistent with a below 2C trajectory, purple line below 1.8C, and grey line shows emissions consistent with a 1.5C trajectory. Source: UNEP Emissions Gap Report 2020. Chart by Carbon Brief using Highcharts.
There is a large gap between what countries have committed to, in terms of future emission reductions, and what would be needed to meet the Paris Agreement goals. Current NDCs would result in global emissions plateauing rather than declining. They would leave the world in 2030 some 12-15bn tonnes of CO2 equivalent (GtCO2e) short of what is needed to be on track to limit warming below 2C and 29-32GtCO2e short for 1.5C.
Currently 126 countries covering 51% of global GHG emissions have net-zero goals that are either formally adopted, announced, or under consideration. With the incoming Biden-Harris administration in the US, this will increase to 63%. These countries include major emitters, such as the UK, EU, China, Japan, Korea, Canada, South Africa, Argentina and Mexico. This is also notably up from the 65 countries that had similar commitments at this point in 2019.
However, there is a large difference between announced long-term climate targets and the short-to-medium term actions needed to accomplish them, stresses the new report. Some targets – such as those proposed by the incoming Biden administration – will still need to be translated into more binding legislation, which may prove challenging. The UNEP report suggests that countries need to submit new and updated NDCs consistent with the net-zero emissions goals.
The report also suggests that meeting existing NDCs would put the world on track for a 66% chance of avoiding 3.2C warming above pre-industrial levels by 2100, consistent with other recent assessments of current and stated policy scenarios. They suggest that the full implementation of current net-zero commitments would lead to avoiding (with a 66% chance) warming of 2.7C without the US and 2.5C with the US.
These numbers are consistent with the recent Climate Action Tracker (CAT) report (see its graphic below), which suggests that a full implementation of current net-zero commitments would result in a 50% chance of limiting warming to 2.1C. CAT uses different thresholds, but a 50% chance of limiting warming to 2.1C is comparable to a 66% chance of limiting warming to 2.5C given the uncertainties in climate sensitivity, though these different ways of expressing global warming outcomes can be quite confusing. Estimating the effects of these net-zero targets on global temperatures is challenging, in part because it relies on assumptions around emissions in those countries currently lacking net-zero commitments.
Currently many countries are not on track to meet their NDC commitments. Only nine G20 members are on track to meet their 2030 commitments, five members are on track to miss their targets and, for two, the outcome is unclear. While the net-zero commitments made by many countries are a hopeful sign, the new UNEP report shows that until they are reflected in actual short-to-medium-term policy there is a risk they may turn out to be empty promises.
Time is running out
There is relatively little carbon budget remaining for global warming to be limited to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. The report highlights how, if 2020 emissions expected to be around 7% lower than those in 2019, there will be only around 295GtCO2 – or seven years of current emissions – remaining that can be emitted before the world wants to have a 66% chance of avoiding 1.5C warming. For a 50% chance of avoiding 1.5C, the remaining carbon budget is only around 455GtCO2, or around 10 years of current emissions.
While this carbon budget could be expanded through the widespread use of negative emissions technologies (NETs) later in the century – as is assumed in the 1.5C scenarios used by the UNEP report – there is some reluctance to bet the future on NETs that are still largely unproven at scale.
Carbon Brief’s interactive chart below, inspired by the UNEP gap report analysis and adapted from one created by CICERO’s Dr Robbie Andrews, shows emission trajectories to limit global warming to below 1.5C in the absence of net-negative emissions. The different lines show the emissions reductions that would be required if emissions had peaked in each year, between 2000 and 2026, with the current year (2020) highlighted in grey.
Emission reduction trajectories associated with a 66% chance of limiting warming below 1.5C, without a reliance on net-negative emissions, by starting year. Solid black line shows historical emissions, while dashed black line shows emissions constant at 2019 levels. Source: Historical CO2 emissions from the Global Carbon Project. 1.5C carbon budgets based on the IPCC SR15 report. Original figure from Robbie Andrews. Chart by Carbon Brief using Highcharts.
If emissions had peaked and begun to decline after 2000, the 1.5C target would have been much easier to achieve, only requiring reductions of around 3% per year. By contrast, limiting warming to below 1.5C starting in 2020, without the use of NETs, would require a roughly 14% cut each year through to 2040.
With the inclusion of NETs, it is possible to create scenarios to limit warming below 1.5C that do not involve quite so precipitous a drop in emissions in the coming years. However, these rely on planetary scale deployment of NETs – with some models needing three times the land area of India for deploying bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) in order to “suck” roughly half of the world’s current human-caused emissions from the atmosphere each year.
Each year that passes without global emission reductions puts the 1.5C target further out of reach, says the UNEP report. While the Paris Agreement’s “well below” 2C target is easier to achieve than 1.5C, delays will make it increasingly difficult, too.
Carbon Brief’s interactive chart below shows the emission reductions needed, by peaking year, to meet the 2C target without use of net-negative emissions.
Emission reduction trajectories associated with a 66% chance of limiting warming below 2C without net-negative emissions, by starting year. Solid black line shows historical emissions, while dashed black line shows emissions constant at 2019 levels. Source: Historical CO2 emissions from the Global Carbon Project. Below-2C carbon budgets based on the IPCC SR15 report. Original figure from Robbie Andrews. Chart by Carbon Brief using Highcharts.
Overall, the latest UNEP gap report suggests that the world has “stronger pledges on climate” in recent years and that even current policies have moved the world away from some of the worst-case emissions scenarios.
At the same time, the gap between what is actually occurring and what is needed to limit warming to Paris Agreement targets of 1.5C and 2C continues to grow larger with each passing year, necessitating ever steeper future reductions. While the recent net-zero commitments by a number of major emitting nations are “significant and encouraging”, the proof will be in “the extent to which they are reflected in near-term policy action”.
12/12/2020 by Dan Jørgensen and Andrea Meza Murillo
Disused oil platforms in the North Sea (Photo: joiseyshowaa/Flickr)
Five years ago, in Paris, the governments of the world pledged to take urgent action to tackle the climate emergency. Today, as we celebrate the anniversary of that pledge, the time has come to take stock of the progress we’ve made and what it is going to take to limit warming to 1.5C. One thing is clear: to meet the Paris objectives, we will need to put an end to the expansion of fossil fuel production.
Despite unfavorable geopolitical winds and an unprecedented global health and economic crisis, the last five years have seen great successes in the deployment of clean solutions.
Since 2015, solar power has become the cheapest form of electricity in history and the cost of electric car batteries has more than halved. China, the European Union, Japan, Korea and many other countries including Costa Rica and Denmark all committed to achieving carbon neutrality by mid-century, and the United States will hopefully follow suit shortly.
And while this is cause for great hope, as United Nations secretary general António Guterres recently put it: “the state of the planet is broken”. Without extraordinary ambition, we risk immeasurable catastrophe.
We urgently need to step up our efforts and to adopt bold, new approaches to deliver on the pledge we made five years ago. The cost of failure to everyone but especially the world’s most vulnerable population is unfathomable.
One such approach is inherently intuitive, and yet has been consistently ignored in national climate plans and excluded by global climate diplomacy: we must stop expanding fossil fuel production and begin a just transition with a clear cutoff point in sight.
Addressing the growing gap between fossil fuel production and our climate targets requires a redefinition of what it means to be a climate leader. With the 1.5C target only just visible in the distance, we need to cut with both hands of the scissors, addressing demand and supply simultaneously.
We must continue to reduce demand for fossil fuels but at the same time, we need to put an end to fossil fuel exploration and establish final cutoff dates for production that are consistent with the imperative of climate neutrality. Fossil fuel companies that understand and act on the urgency of the climate crisis are invited to play their part.
Wealthy, diversified, fossil fuel producing countries must act fast and first in proving that a just transition and a phase-out of oil and gas production is not only possible, but responsible.
Initiatives to help affected communities and workers adapt to a changing labour market have to be put in place to ensure that social justice, sustainable employment and climate action go hand in hand. Without a just transition, public support for an accelerated green transition would falter.
This proof of concept must be shared in real time across the globe along with learnings, technologies, capacity-building and financial support for places where the transition will be much more challenging.
Our countries, Costa Rica and Denmark, have taken the critical first steps to establish an end date on fossil fuel production, and along with a growing group of countries, public finance institutions, and subnational jurisdictions are putting an end to oil and gas expansion.
And while a safer climate is motivation in and of itself, a timely and planned phase-out of oil and gas production also provide a suitable backdrop for increased investments in green energy, creating many high-quality jobs along the way.
This transition can only succeed if it includes a swift and decisive end to fossil fuel subsidies. As the world works to build back better after the Covid-19 crisis, continuing to support the fossil fuel industry through recovery packages risks becoming a case study in throwing good money after bad.
2021 will be a pivotal year for climate action and we believe that it should be the year that global efforts to end oil and gas expansion become a key component of global action to solve the climate crisis.
Our countries are committed to playing an outsized role to leverage our national actions into international momentum to move beyond oil and gas. We look forward to working with all of our friends and allies to close the production gap and build a future we can be proud of.
Dan Jørgensen is Denmark’s minister of climate, energy and utilities. Andrea Meza Murillo is Costa Rica’s minister of environment and energy.
Are We There Yet? Lloyd Alter, December 10, 2020
Every year the United Nations Environment Programme issues the Emissions Gap report, where they look at the difference between the greenhouse gas emission reductions needed to limit the global temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius or 1.5 degrees, which would be somewhat less horrible. They also look at how nations are doing compared to their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), the promises they made in the Paris Agreement. As they explain, “This difference between ‘where we are likely to be and where we need to be’ is known as the ‘emissions gap.'”
It’s a big report, actually more like a book-sized collection of reports by different authors covering different subjects, but can be summarized in one line, shorter than a tweet, from the executive summary:
“Are we on track to bridging the gap? Absolutely not.”
The report notes that emissions went down this year because of the pandemic, although this won’t have much of a long-term effect; on its own, it will amount to the lowering of average global temperature of about a hundredth of a degree. But as they say about never letting a crisis go to waste, “the unprecedented scale of COVID-19 economic recovery measures presents the opening for a low-carbon transition that creates the structural changes required for sustained emissions reductions. Seizing this opening will be critical to bridging the emissions gap.”
The report suggests stimulus investments in “zero-emissions technologies and infrastructure, for example, low-carbon and renewable energy, low-carbon transport, zero-energy buildings and low-carbon industry” and “nature-based solutions, including large-scale landscape restoration and reforestation.” Instead, we are already seeing investments in airlines and oil pipelines, and rolling back of environmental regulations.
Consumption Versus Production
Treehugger has often covered the question of whether we should be concentrating on consumption-based emissions, rather than the production-based emissions that are measured for those Nationally Determined Contributions. If someone in Canada buys a Kia, should the emissions from building it count against Korea where it is made, or against Canada’s NDC budget? It is an important question that the Report addresses.
“There is a general tendency that rich countries have higher consumption-based emissions (emissions allocated to the country where goods are purchased and consumed, rather than where they are produced) than territorial-based emissions, as they typically have cleaner production, relatively more services and more imports of primary and secondary products.”
It is an important issue to consider if there is a strong post-pandemic economic recovery, because demand in the richer countries will increase emissions in the countries where all these products are made. That is why it is so important to “pursue an economic recovery that incorporates strong decarbonization” that is universal; we can’t make investments in zero-energy buildings here if we buy all our building parts and components from China.
After spending the year writing about how lifestyle changes matter – and often dealing with those who say “no, it is the government and regulation and evil oil companies” – it was reassuring for me to see that the Report acknowledges that in fact, our lifestyle choices do matter. You can still blame the government though:
“Lifestyle emissions are influenced by social and cultural conventions, the built environment and financial and policy frameworks. Governments have a major role in setting the conditions under which lifestyle changes can occur, through shaping policy, regulations and infrastructure investments.”
But that doesn’t let the individual off the hook; “At the same time, it is necessary for citizens to be active participants in changing their lifestyles through taking steps to reduce personal emissions.” The report lists all the usual suspects: eat less meat, don’t fly so much, restrict the use of cars, and get a bike.
Eat the Rich
Finally and most controversially, and what has been drawing headlines around the world, is the discussion about equity.
“Compliance with the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Agreement will require reducing consumption emissions to a per capita lifestyle footprint of around 2–2.5 tCO2e by 2030. This means that the richest 1 percent would need to reduce their current emissions by at least a factor of 30, while per capita emissions of the poorest 50 percent could increase by around three times their current levels on average.”
This is the definition of the 1.5-degree lifestyle that we have been discussing on Treehugger, living in a way where lifestyle emissions are limited to 2.5 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year. The section is based on a number of studies we have covered, such as those discussed in “Are the Rich Responsible for Climate Change?” and “The Rich Are Different From You and Me; They Emit Way More Carbon.”
“To design equitable low-carbon lifestyle approaches, it is important to consider these consumption inequities and identify populations with very high and very low carbon footprints. Central to addressing consumption inequities is reframing the meaning of ‘progress’ and ‘affluence away from the accumulation of income or energy-intensive resources to the achievement of well-being and quality of life.”
Essentially, the very rich are burning lots of energy and putting out tons of carbon and the very poor are actually suffering from energy poverty. Somehow, it all has to be shared more equitably, drastically cutting the carbon consumed by the rich and raising the level consumed by the very poor. Without using the scary word degrowth, this section of the report acknowledges that change is necessary.
“In seeking to shift focus from economic growth towards equity and well-being within ecological limits, a move towards sustainable lifestyles is likely to challenge powerful vested interests.”
That’s an understatement. The report ends by noting that “ultimately, the accomplishment of low-carbon lifestyles will require deep-rooted changes to socioeconomic systems and cultural conventions.”
Somehow, it’s hard to see that happening by 2030.