The world must do more to stand chance of limiting global warming to 1.5°C

smoke pollution

This photo taken on November 19, 2015 shows smoke belching from a coal-fuelled power station near Datong, in China’s northern Shanxi province.

Photo credit: Greg Baker | AFP

A new report released ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), reveals that for the world to have any chance of limiting global warming to 1.5°C, it should take an additional 28 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) off annual emissions in eight years.

 This, the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) latest emissions gap report (Emissions Gap Report 2021: The Heat Is On) notes, is over and above what is promised in the updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and other 2030 commitments, falling far short of what is needed to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.

 To put this into perspective, global carbon dioxide emissions alone are expected to reach 33 gigatonnes in 2021.

 “When all other greenhouse gases are taken into account, annual emissions are close to 60 GtCO2e,” states the report.

The survey finds that lack of commitments leaves the world on track for a global temperature rise of at least 2.7 degrees Celsius this century.

 Countries’ updated NDCs made for 2030 only take an additional 7.5 per cent off predicted annual greenhouse gas emissions in 2030, but reductions of 30 per cent are needed to stay on the least-cost pathway for 2 degrees Celsius and 55 per cent for 1.5°C.

 “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,” said UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen.

Net zero pledges

 However, the study indicates that net zero pledges could make a big difference if fully implemented, as they could bring the predicted global temperature rise to 2.2°C, providing hope that further action could still head off the most-catastrophic impacts of climate change.

 Net zero pledges and their effective execution could make a big difference, the authors find, but current plans are vague and not reflected in NDCs.

 A total of 49 countries plus the European Union have pledged a net zero target, covering over half of global domestic greenhouse gas emissions, over half of GDP and a third of the global population.

 As of September 30 2021, 120 countries representing just over half of global greenhouse gas emissions, had communicated new or updated NDCs. In addition, three G20 members have announced other new mitigation pledges for 2030.

“So, to have a chance of reaching the 1.5°C target, the world governments will have to almost halve greenhouse gas emissions. For the 2°C target, the additional need is lower: a drop in annual emissions of 13 GtCO2e by 2030,” says the report.

 Eleven targets are enshrined in law, covering 12 per cent of global emissions. If made robust and implemented fully, net zero targets could shave an extra 0.5°C off global warming, bringing the predicted temperature rise down to 2.2°C.

 However, many of the national climate plans delay action until after 2030, raising doubts over whether net zero pledges can be delivered.

Twelve G20 members have pledged a net zero target, but they are still highly ambiguous. Action also needs to be front-loaded to make it in line with 2030 goals.

Ms Andersen has called on the world to wake up to the imminent peril that humans face as a species, asking nations need to put in place policies to meet their new commitments, and start implementing them within months.

 “They need to make their net zero pledges more concrete, ensuring these commitments are included in NDCs, and action brought forward. They then need to get the policies in place to back this raised ambition and, again, start implementing them urgently,” she told Sunday Nation.

 She added that it is also essential to deliver financial and technological support to developing nations – so that they can both adapt to the impacts of climate change already here and set out on a low-emissions growth path.

 This year, the Emissions Gap Report, now on its 12th edition focuses on methane and market mechanisms, highlighting that reduction of methane emissions from the fossil fuels, waste and agriculture sectors can contribute to closing the emissions gap and reducing warming in the short term.

Global warming

Methane emissions are the second largest contributor to global warming, according to UNEP reports, with a global warming potential of over 80 times that of carbon dioxide over a 20-year horizon.

 But methane has a shorter lifetime in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide – only 12 years, compared to up to hundreds for carbon dioxide – so cuts to methane are expected to limit temperature increase faster than cuts to carbon dioxide.

 “Available no- or low-cost technical measures alone could reduce anthropogenic methane emissions by around 20 per cent per year. Implementation of all measures, along with broader structural and behavioural measures, could reduce anthropogenic methane emissions by approximately 45 per cent,” the research finds.

 Carbon markets, meanwhile, have the potential to reduce costs and thereby encourage more ambitious reduction pledges, but “only if rules are clearly defined, are designed to ensure that transactions reflect actual reductions in emissions, and are supported by arrangements to track progress and provide transparency.”

 Revenues earned through these markets could fund mitigation and adaptation solutions domestically and in vulnerable nations where the burdens of climate change are greatest.

 On the coronavirus pandemic, the report establishes that the opportunity to use Covid-19 fiscal rescue and recovery spending to stimulate the global economy while backing climate action has been missed in most countries.

“The Covid-19 pandemic led to a drop in global carbon emissions of 5.4 per cent in 2020. However, carbon and non-carbon emissions in 2021 are expected to rise again to a level only slightly lower than the record high in 2019.”

 Only around 20 per cent of total recovery investments up to May 2021 are likely to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and of this spending, the survey says, almost 90 per cent is accounted for by six G20 members and one permanent guest.