UN report: current climate efforts not enough

By UN Environment Programme (UNEP)
Thursday, 23 November, 2023

UN report: current climate efforts not enough

As the world experiences record global temperatures and greenhouse gas emissions, the latest Emissions Gap Report from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) found that current pledges under the Paris Agreement put the world on track for a 2.5–2.9°C temperature rise above pre-industrial levels this century, pointing to an urgent need for increased climate action.

Released ahead of the 2023 climate summit in Dubai, the report, ‘Broken Record — Temperatures hit new highs, yet world fails to cut emissions (again)’, found that global low-carbon transformations are needed to deliver cuts to predicted 2030 greenhouse gas emissions of 28% for a 2°C pathway and 42% for a 1.5°C pathway.

To maintain the possibility of achieving the Paris Agreement temperature goals, mitigation needs to be strengthened this decade to narrow the emissions gap. This will help facilitate more ambitious targets for 2035 in the next round of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and increase the chances of meeting net-zero pledges, which cover around 80% of global emissions.

Broken records

Until the beginning of October 2023, 86 days were recorded with temperatures over 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. September was the hottest recorded month ever, with global average temperatures 1.8°C above pre-industrial levels.

The report found that global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions increased by 1.2% from 2021 to 2022, reaching a record 57.4 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e). This showed that the world may be on track for a temperature rise far beyond the agreed climate goals during this century.

If the mitigation efforts implied by current policies are continued at today’s levels, global warming will be limited to 3°C above pre-industrial levels in this century. Fully implementing unconditional NDC efforts would put the world on track to limit temperature rise to 2.9°C, while conditional NDCs fully implemented would lead to temperatures not exceeding 2.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

These temperature projections are slightly higher than in the 2022 Emissions Gap Report, as the 2023 report includes a larger number of models in the estimation of global warming.

To get back on track to achieve the 2°C goal of the Paris Agreement, the world needs to cut 2030 emissions by 28%, with a 66% chance. For the 1.5°C goal, emissions need to be cut by 42%.

If all conditional NDCs and long-term net-zero pledges were met, limiting the temperature rise to 2°C would be possible.

Since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015, policy progress has reduced the implementation gap, defined as the difference between projected emissions under current policies and full NDC implementation.

Some progress, but not enough

Policy progress since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015 has reduced the implementation gap, defined as the difference between projected emissions under current policies and full NDC implementation. GHG emissions based on policies are projected to increase by 3%, a large change from the 16% prediction at the time the Paris Agreement was adopted.

As of 25 September, nine countries submitted new or updated NDCs since COP27 in 2022, bringing the total number of updated NDCs to 149. If new and updated unconditional NDCs are fully implemented, they would reduce GHG emissions by about 5.0 GtCO2e, about 9% of 2022 emissions, annually by 2030, compared with the initial NDCs.

However, it will be near impossible to limit global warming to 1.5°C unless emission levels in 2030 are brought down further.

Low-carbon development transformations

The report calls for nations to deliver economy-wide, low carbon development transformations, focusing on energy transition. The coal, oil and gas extracted over the lifetime of producing and planned mines and fields would emit over 3.5 times the carbon budget available to limit warming to 1.5°C, and almost the entire budget available for 2°C.

Countries with greater capacity and responsibility for emissions will need to take more ambitious and rapid action and provide financial and technical support to developing nations. Low- and middle-income countries already account for over two-thirds of global GHG emissions, so it is essential to meet development needs with low emissions growth in such nations.

The low-carbon development transition poses economic and institutional challenges for these countries, but also provides opportunities. Transitions in such countries can help provide universal access to energy, lift people out of poverty and expand strategic industries. The associated energy growth can be met efficiently and equitably with low-carbon energy as renewables get cheaper, ensuring green jobs and cleaner air.

International financial assistance will have to be scaled up to achieve this, with new sources of capital restructured through financing mechanisms, such as debt financing, long-term concessional finance, guarantees and catalytic finance.

COP28 and the Global Stocktake

The first Global Stocktake (GST), concluding at COP28, will inform the next round of NDCs that countries should submit in 2025 with targets for 2035. In the next round of NDCs, global ambition must bring emissions in 2035 to levels consistent with 2°C and 1.5°C pathways, while compensating for excess emissions until levels consistent with these pathways are achieved.

This will offer low- and middle-income countries the opportunity to develop national roadmaps with ambitious development and climate policies, and targets for which finance and technology needs are clearly specified. COP28 should ensure that international support is provided for the development of such roadmaps.

Carbon dioxide removal

The report found that delaying GHG emissions reductions will increase future reliance on carbon dioxide removal from the atmosphere. This is already being deployed, mainly through afforestation, reforestation and forest management. Currently, direct removals through land-based methods are estimated at 2 GtCO2e annually. However, least-cost pathways assume considerable increases in both conventional and novel carbon dioxide removal — such as direct air carbon capture and storage.

Achieving higher levels of carbon dioxide removal remains uncertain and associated with risks such as land competition, protection of tenure and rights and other factors. Upscaling of novel carbon dioxide removal methods are associated with different types of risks, including that the technical, economic and political requirements for large-scale deployment may not materialise in time.

Image credit: iStock.com/Khanchit Khirisutchalual

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