UN report confirms Paris Agreement pledges will deliver only a third of the emissions cuts needed to avoid worst impacts of climate change
The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has today published its annual update on global efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions, warning once again that governments and businesses must urgently strengthen their carbon cutting initiatives if the goals of the Paris Agreement are to be met.
The eighth edition of UNEP’s Emissions Gap report details how current national pledges made under the Paris Agreement are on track to only bring a third of the reduction in emissions required by 2030 to meet climate targets. It adds that private sector and sub-national action is also failing to accelerate at a rate that would “help close this worrying gap”.
“One year after the Paris Agreement entered into force, we still find ourselves in a situation where we are not doing nearly enough to save hundreds of millions of people from a miserable future,” said Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment. “This is unacceptable.”
The report calculates that based on the current unconditional and conditional emissions reduction pledges submitted under the Paris Agreement the temperature increases this century of 3C above pre industrial levels are “very likely”.
The emissions trajectory could prove to be worse still, given many of the national climate action plans submitted by developing nations include targets that are conditional on richer nations providing them with funding and access to finance. The report also notes that “should the United States follow through with its stated intention to leave the Paris Agreement in 2020, the picture could become even bleaker”.
The Paris Agreement has set a goal of limiting temperature increases to ‘well below ‘ 2C and includes a mechanism for reviewing progress against the over-arching target every five years. As such, UNEP’s latest intervention is likely to crank up pressure on governments gathering at the annual UN climate summit in Bonn next week to move swiftly to strengthen their national climate action plans ahead of the first official review in 2020.
“If we invest in the right technologies, ensuring that the private sector is involved, we can still meet the promise we made to our children to protect their future. But we have to get on the case now,” Solheim stressed.
Dr. Edgar E. Gutiérrez-Espeleta, Minister of Environment and Energy of Costa Rica, and President of the 2017 UN Environment Assembly, said governments and businesses now needed to unveil fresh efforts to meet the goals agreed in Paris. “The Paris Agreement boosted climate action, but momentum is clearly faltering,” he said. “We face a stark choice: up our ambition, or suffer the consequences.”
The report stresses that existing technologies and policies could deliver the scale of emissions cuts required through to 2030 that would put the world on track to keeping temperature increases below 2C.
It calculates that 22 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) could be delivered through the deployment of emissions reduction technologies and measures across solar and wind energy, efficient appliances, efficient passenger cars, and improved land management that have only “modest or net-negative costs”.
It adds that were economies able to invest in emissions reductions that cost less than $100/tonne then up to 36GtCO2e could be saved by 2030.
The report also details a host of other measures that could help put the world on track to meeting the Paris Agreement goals.
For example, it argues that accelerated efforts to curb methane emissions through the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol could make a major contribution to minimising climate impacts.
Similarly, it claims measures by regional governments and the private sector could help close the emissions gap, noting that the world’s 100 largest emitting publicly traded companies account for around a quarter of global greenhouse emissions and therefore have huge potential for curbing emissions.
In addition, it highlights how accelerating the phase out of existing coal power plants and blocking the development of new projects could make a major contribution to global emissions reduction efforts.
“Avoiding new coal-fired power plants and accelerated phasing out of existing plants – ensuring careful handling of issues such as employment, investor interests and grid stability – would help,” the report states. “There are an estimated 6,683 operating coal-fired power plants in the world, with a combined capacity of 1,964 GW. If these plants are operated until the end of their lifetime and not retrofitted with Carbon Capture and Storage, they would emit an accumulated 190 Gt of CO2.”
It adds that a further 150 Gt CO2 could be released by coal power plants that are currently under construction or in planning.
However, the pipeline of coal projects has been restricted in many countries in recent years and five nations have now pledged to phase out coal power altogether in the coming years. The UK and Canada have said they will jointly call on other nations at the Bonn Summit to come forward with similar coal phase out pledges.
Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science, said there was a compelling rationale for governments to come forward with more ambitious climate action plans.
“Countries are aware that the revised pledges that they are due to submit in 2020, when the Paris Agreement takes effect, must have higher ambition and be consistent with the goal of avoiding dangerous climate change,” he said. “Many countries now recognise that the transition to a low-carbon economy will generate sustainable growth and development, with lower poverty and higher living standards. High-carbon economies look increasingly uncompetitive. However, much bigger investments are needed worldwide in technologies and infrastructure that are modern, efficient and clean.”
He added that the risks of inaction should also help to drive bolder green investment programmes. “The last time global mean surface temperature was 2C higher than pre-industrial levels was about 125,000 years ago when the polar ice caps were much smaller and sea levels around the world were 5 to 10 metres higher than today,” he warned. “The average temperature has not been 3C higher for millions of years, and is well outside the evolutionary experience of modern humans. It would likely transform the planet, and force the migration of hundreds of millions of people, with associated risks of extended conflict. No countries will be able to escape the impacts of dangerous climate change.”
The report comes on the same day as a separate study from the 1 Gigaton Coalition which is supported by UNEP and the Norwegian government. It details how renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in developing countries could cut emissions by 1.4 GtCO2e by 2020 if industrialised nations made good on their pledge to mobilise $100bn a year of climate funding.
“As renewable energy and energy efficiency bring other benefits – including better human health and jobs – I urge the international community to deliver on the funding they promised to support developing nations in their climate action,” said Ine Eriksen Søreide, Norway’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. “Partner-supported renewable energy and energy efficiency projects and policies are vital for global decarbonisation, as they provide key resources and create enabling environments in critical regions.”
The report also comes just a day after a major study from consultancy PwC similarly warned that while the global economy was continuing to reduce its carbon intensity it was not making sufficient progress.
It found that in 2016 the carbon intensity of the world’s economy fell 2.6 per cent, continuing the decoupling of emissions growth and economic growth that has been evident since 2014. However, it warned progress still falls well short of the 6.3 per cent rate needed to deliver emissions cut compatible with keeping temperature increases to under 2C.
The continued failure to sharply reduce manmade emissions remains one of the primary drivers behind the record concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which according to yesterday’s annual update from the World Meteorological Organisation last year reached their highest level in at least 800,000 years.