UN Emissions Gap Report: It's Time to Take Drastic Action

This week, the United Nations Environmental Programme released The Emissions Gap Report. As implied by the title, the report shows that there is still a huge gap between the current rate of global greenhouse gas emissions, and the drastically reduced levels that the world needs to limit future temperature rise to only 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius.

Current emissions are at 53.5 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent, but would need to be cut by 25 percent by 2030 to put the world on a 2 degree Celsius pathway, and would need to be cut by 55 percent by 2030 to be on a 1.5 degree Celsius pathway.

This report, much like the IPCC Special Report released in October, tells us that we are still on a dangerous pathway that leads to severe climate impacts like more intense heat waves, severe droughts, intensified hurricanes, and other impacts. But more importantly, the report tells us the progress that’s already been made to “close the emissions gap” and what else needs to be done.

The good news

There are 49 countries that have already peaked and started decreasing their emissions. These countries cover more than one-third of global emissions. By 2020, there will be 53 countries that have already peaked their emissions and started decreasing them. They cover two-fifths of global emissions. By 2030, the number of countries that will have peaked global emissions rises to 57, and they will cover 60 percent of global emissions.

Three Key Points from the Report

  1. Countries must improve their climate commitments. The “Nationally Determined Contributions” that each country submitted as part of the Paris Agreement helped us evaluate the global emissions trajectory, but they also showed just how far off track we are. Many countries are expected to announce updates to their NDCs before 2020, and now is the time to dramatically improve the contents of NDCs so that more ambitious climate actions are taken
  2. Financial tools such as carbon taxes, carbon tariffs, industrial transition funds, and the elimination of fossil fuel subsidies must be adopted more widely. The UNEP report estimates that if all fossil fuel subsidies were phased out, it would reduce global carbon emission by up to 10 percent by 2030.
  3. Innovation in new technologies and widespread adoption of existing technologies can radically transform societies and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The report highlights the lessons we can learn from the development of solar panels as one example of how policy, financial incentives, and other tools can transform ideas into real-world climate solutions.

What Happens Next?

The UNEP Emissions Gap Report provides a useful global overview of where emissions are headed, and some of the policy tools to help get us on the right track. But the other thing we must note is that not all countries are going to move at the same pace. Some countries are sprinting ahead on adoption of solar, wind and battery technology, while others are spending billions propping up fossil fuel companies. While general policy prescriptions are useful, we must be practical about initiatives that are the most realistic, impactful, and replicable in the real world. That’s why NRDC will be releasing our own analysis during the UN Climate Conference (COP24), recommending a detailed set of real-world actions that can help close the emissions gap.

About the Authors

Han Chen

Manager, Energy Policy, International Program

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