21 Sep 2019 Story Environment under review

UN flagship report urges G20 to embrace transformative climate action

Every year since 2010, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has produced annual science-based assessments of the gap between countries’ pledges on greenhouse gas emissions reductions and the reductions required to deliver a global temperature increase of below 2°C by the end of this century.

The goal of the Paris Agreement on climate change, as agreed at the Conference of the Parties in 2015, is to keep global temperature rise this century to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. It also calls for efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5°C.

Global emissions are reaching record levels and show no sign of peaking, pushing global temperatures ever higher. Winter in the Arctic is now 3°C warmer than in 1990.

Ahead of the UN Climate Action Summit 2019, UNEP has released an advance chapter of the flagship 2019 Emissions Gap Report, which notes that G20 members, who account for around 80 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, are not yet taking on transformative climate commitments at the breadth and scale necessary.

The chapter titled Bridging the Gap: Enhancing Mitigation Ambition and Action at G20 Level and Globally notes that “the majority of G20 countries are not yet taking on transformative climate commitments at the necessary scale—if this does not change, the goals of the Paris Agreement will slip dangerously far from reach”.

Global greenhouse gas emissions have grown at 1.6 per cent per year from 2008 to 2017, reaching a record high of 53.5 gigatonnes of equivalent carbon dioxide in 2017, including emissions from land-use change. Preliminary findings from the Emissions Gap Report 2019 indicate that emissions continued to rise in 2018.

However, the chapter also offers a ray of hope and adds that “technological and economic developments present opportunities to decarbonize the economy, and especially the energy sector, at a lower cost than ever”.

Some of these opportunities include a ban of all new coal-fired power plants in China, refraining from exploitation of new non-conventional fossil fuel resources in Argentina and adoption of European Union regulation to refrain from investment in fossil fuel infrastructure. It also identifies further opportunities in regulations on power plants, clean energy standards and carbon pricing to achieve 100 per cent carbon-free electricity supply in the United States.

“Relative to the years 2014 and 2015, when countries were preparing their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions for the Paris Agreement, many drivers of ambitious climate action today are less costly, more numerous and better understood,” says the report.

The release of the advance chapter comes at a time when UN Secretary-General António Guterres is calling on all leaders who will be attending the Climate Action Summit in New York on 23 September to present concrete, realistic plans to enhance their nationally determined contributions by 2020. This is in line with reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 45 per cent over the next decade, and to net zero emissions by 2050.

Aside from advancements in technology, the chapter notes the growth in documented research which closely links ambitious climate action, economic growth and sustainable development.

“Analysis by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate estimates that ambitious climate action could generate US$26 trillion in economic benefits between now and 2030 and create 65 million jobs in 2030, while avoiding 700,000 premature deaths from air pollution,” says the chapter.

In October 2018, the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction released a report which highlighted the staggering financial impact of climate-related disasters. According to the report, between 1998 and 2017, “disaster-hit countries reported direct economic losses of US$2,908 billion, of which climate-related disasters accounted for US$2,245 billion, or 77 per cent of the total”. Climate action clearly offers an opportunity to not only prevent such losses but to generate sustainable livelihoods.

The emissions gap reports have gained wide reputation as a scientifically authoritative source of timely and policy-relevant information to key decision makers, informing the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change process and the implementation of the Paris Agreement.

Since 2011, the UNEP – Technical University of Denmark Partnership has managed the production of UNEP’s flagship report on climate change.

The climate summit will bring together governments, the private sector, civil society, local authorities and other international organizations to develop ambitious solutions in six areas: a global transition to renewable energy; sustainable and resilient infrastructures and cities; sustainable agriculture and management of forests and oceans; resilience and adaptation to climate impacts; and alignment of public and private finance with a net zero economy.

For further information please contact Pinya Sarasas