World still on track for 2.7C of warming, UN report warns

Article by Amanda Doyle

THE UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has released its annual Emissions Gap Report, saying that current pledges under the Paris Agreement are nowhere near enough to limit warming to 1.5oC.

The report says that the emissions gap between what is pledged by each party under the Paris Agreement – known as a Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) – and the emissions cuts needed by 2030 to stay on track to limit warming to 1.5oC is still extremely large.

The updated NDCs only reduce predicted emissions by 2030 by 7.5% compared with the previous round of NDCs (submitted five or six years ago when the Paris Agreement was signed). However, a cut of 55% in emissions – which amounts to 28bn t/y CO2e by 2030 – is needed to stay on track to 1.5oC. Currently, the submitted NDCs set the world on track to reach 2.7oC of warming by the end of the century. This would be catastrophic, as the IPCC warned in its recent report. Even limiting warming to 1.5oC will result in an increased occurrence of extreme weather events.

The report finds that 49% of new or updated NDCs result in lower emissions in 2030 than the previous NDCs. For around 18% of NDCs, the ambition is the same as the previous NDC, and for the remaining 33%, there was insufficient detail to fully assess the impact of emissions reductions, although this was usually because of a lack of information in the original NDC.  

It noted that a promising development is the increasing number of net zero pledges by countries, and that if these are fully implemented in addition to the NDCs, then the warming estimate is lowered to 2.2oC. However, it highlighted that the path to net zero is crucial and depends on near-term targets. If near-term targets still set emissions reductions on a delayed path – where they increase to the mid-2030s and then sharply decline to 2050 – the additional cumulative emissions will lead to higher warming, higher mitigation challenges, and greater difficulty in reaching net zero.

The report also shows that the chance to use pandemic recovery spending to tackle the climate crisis has been missed in most countries.

Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP said: “Climate change is no longer a future problem. It is a now problem. To stand a chance of limiting global warming to 1.5°C, we have eight years to almost halve greenhouse gas emissions: eight years to make the plans, put in place the policies, implement them and ultimately deliver the cuts. The clock is ticking loudly.”

“We can still do it. As this year’s Emissions Gap Report shows, there is huge potential for large cuts in methane emissions from the oil and gas, waste and agriculture sectors. Carbon markets could help to accelerate action by decreasing mitigation costs. Covid-19 recovery funding can still be greened. And as previous UNEP Emissions Gap Reports show, there is potential in nature-based solutions, renewables, energy efficiency and so much more.”

Alok Sharma, COP26 President, said: “As this report makes clear, if countries deliver on their 2030 NDCs and net zero commitments which have been announced by the end of September, we will be heading towards average global temperature rises of just above 2oC. Complementary analyses suggest that the commitments made in Paris would have capped the rise in temperature to below 4°C.

“So there has been progress, but not enough. That is why we especially need the biggest emitters, the G20 nations, to come forward with stronger commitments to 2030 if we are to keep 1.5oC in reach over this critical decade.”

Article by Amanda Doyle

Staff Reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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