UN: There’s a huge ‘Emissions Gap’ Between a Safe World and the One We’re In

Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg

Nations can jump-start their woefully inadequate climate policies by moving quickly in three areas, according to an urgent UN science report: Link post-pandemic fiscal recovery to curbing emissions, slash methane pollution and build a global carbon market. 

Taking those actions would help close an enormous gap between the world’s current trajectory and the necessary path to limit global warming, said the 12th UN Environment Program Emissions Gap report published Tuesday. Updates to national pledges made under the Paris Agreement — even if they are achieved — utterly fail to heed the timelines that scientists have identified for cutting greenhouse-gas emissions.

By the end of September, 120 countries that produce 51% of global emissions had published new or updated country goals, known as nationally determined contributions. Together those pledges, known as NDCs, reduce the predicted 2030 emissions levels by 7.5%, compared with the previous round of commitments. Emissions need to fall 55% for just a two-thirds chance of rising less than 1.5°C.

Climate math is brutal, and nations continue to tighten their own noose: To have a shot at the Paris Agreement’s safer goal of 1.5°C, the world has eight years to reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by 28 gigatons — or about half the total. Despite critical gains in renewable energy and electric mobility, data are still moving in the opposite direction.

In addition to the report’s emphasis on short-term policy, UN Secretary General António Guterres called on rich nations to phase out coal by 2030 and developing nations by 2040, and for everyone to price carbon pollution and end fossil-fuel subsidies. 

Greenhouse gas output rose 1.3% a year from 2010 to 2019, and “a strong rebound in emissions is expected in 2021,” the authors write. A related UN report last week found that governments are projected in 2030 to produce 240% more coal, 57% more oil and 71% more gas than is consistent with keeping global warming to 1.5°C.

Less than 15% of global pandemic-related spending, or $2.3 trillion, has been used for purposes outside of healthcare and unemployment support, and around $415 billion has been directed toward low-carbon spending, including clean energy, efficiency and R&D. This green stimulus was concentrated in seven countries: South Korea, Spain, Germany, U.K., China, France and Japan.



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