It is still possible to keep global warming below 2°C, but the technical feasibility of bridging the 1.5°C gap is dwindling.
Global CO2 emissions increased in 2017, after three years of stabilization.
If the emissions gap is not closed by 2030, it is extremely unlikely that the 2°C temperature goal will remain in reach.
Global emissions are on the rise as national commitments to combat climate change come up short. But surging momentum from the private sector and untapped potential from innovation and green financing offer means of bridging the "emissions gap" between current projections of 2030 emission levels and levels consistent with a 2°C / 1.5°C warming target. Those findings, along with a sweeping review of climate action and the latest measurements of global emissions, were presented by authors of UN Environment's 2018 Emissions Gap Report during a recent launch event.
The findings presented offer the latest accounting of national mitigation efforts and the ambitions countries have presented in their Nationally Determined Contributions, which form the foundation of the Paris Agreement.
This evidence, outlined just days before the start of the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP24), reveals that global emissions have reached historic levels of 53.5 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e), with no peak in sight. Authors assessed that only 57 countries (representing 60 percent of global emissions) are on track for 2030.
That analysis and a review of progress against national commitments under the Paris Agreement makes clear that the current pace of national action is insufficient to meet the Paris targets. Increased emissions and lagging action mean the gap number in this year’s report is larger than ever. The authors conclude nations must raise their ambition by 3x to meet the 2°C target and 5x to meet the 1.5°C target.
“If the IPCC report represented a global fire alarm, this report is the arson investigation,” said UN Environment Deputy Executive Director Joyce Msuya. “The science is clear. For all the ambitious climate action we’ve seen, governments need to move faster and with greater urgency. We’re feeding this fire while the means to extinguish it are within reach.”
A continuation of current trends will likely result in global warming of around 3°C by the end of the century, with continued temperature rises after that, according to the report.
While the authors highlight that there is still a possibility for bridging the emissions gap and keeping global warming below 2°C, the assessment issues a clear warning: The kind of drastic, large-scale action we urgently need has yet to been seen, and time is running out.
To fill this void, the 2018 Emissions Gap Report offers new insight into what meaningful climate action will look like. Through new analysis of global emissions in the context of fiscal policymaking and the current pace of innovation, as well as an exhaustive review of climate action from the private sector and subnational level, authors offered a roadmap for implementing the type of transformative action required to harness the potential in each of these sectors.
Ranging from city, state and regional governments to companies, investors, higher education institutions and civil society organizations, non-state actors are increasingly committing to bold climate action. These institutions will be invaluable contributors in the push to reach global emissions goals. Although estimates on the emission reduction potential vary widely, some mention 19 GtCO2e by 2030. This is enough to close the 2°C gap.
If complemented by carefully designed national fiscal policy, the work of these actors could pack an even greater punch.
“When governments embrace fiscal policy measures to subsidize low-emission alternatives and tax fossil fuels, they can stimulate the right investments in the energy sector and significantly reduce carbon emissions,” said Jian Liu, UN Environment’s Chief Scientist. “Thankfully, the potential of using fiscal policy as an incentive is increasingly recognized, with 51 carbon pricing initiatives now in place or scheduled, covering roughly 15 percent of global emissions. If all fossil fuel subsidies were phased out, global carbon emissions could be reduced by up to 10 percent by 2030. Setting the right carbon price is also essential. At the US $70 per ton of CO2, emission reductions of up to 40 percent are possible in some countries.”
These established strategies become even more effective when policymakers embrace innovative solutions. Authors outlined five key principles that should be considered to accelerate low-carbon innovation: risk acceptance, commercial scalability, holistic economic alignment, mission-oriented approaches, and a long-term horizon to increase financial uptake.
The ninth Emissions Gap Report was prepared by an international team of leading scientists, assessing all available information, including that published in the context of the IPCC Special Report as well as in other recent scientific studies.