The world is cutting carbon emissions, but not fast enough to blunt climate change, UN says
Energize Weekly, November 8, 2017
Nations around the world are cutting their carbon emissions, but not in large enough quantities or at a fast enough pace to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement and stave off a sharp rise in global temperatures, according to two new studies.
The annual “emission gap” assessment by the United Nations Environment Programme reported that while many countries are moving to make the cuts they agreed to in Paris, they will not be enough to meet the agreement’s goal of keeping global temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius (°C) above pre-industrial levels and pursuing polices to limit it to 1.5 °C.
The Paris climate agreement was signed by 196 countries in 2015, with signatories setting a national goal to reduce carbon emissions, a Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC).
“Looking beyond 2030, it is clear that if the emissions gap is not closed by 2030, it is extremely unlikely that the goal of holding global warming to well below 2°C can still be reached,” the report said.
“There is an urgent need for accelerated short-term action and enhanced longer-term national ambition, if the goals of the Paris Agreement are to remain achievable,” the U.N. report concluded.
A second report by the accounting and financial consultant PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC)—“Is Paris Possible?”—calculated that the rate of decline in emissions as measured against economic activity fell by 2.6 percent in 2016.
“While the recent decarbonization rate is nearly double the average since 2000, it falls just short of 3% decarbonization rate required to achieve national targets pledged in the 2015 Paris Agreement,” the report said.
“More importantly, this rate is less than half of the 6.3 percent decarbonization rate needed to limit global warming to well below 2°C—the main objective of the Paris Agreement,” the study said.
A focus of the U.N. report was the G20 or Group of 20—an international forum that includes the U.S., the European Union (EU28), major nations in Asia, South America and the Middle East. These countries collectively generate about three-quarters of global greenhouse gas emissions.
“Four of the G20 members—China, the EU28, India and Japan—are on track to meet their 2020 pledges without purchasing offsets. A further three—Australia, Brazil and Russia—are on track according to most estimates,” the U.N. study said.
Canada, Mexico, the Republic of Korea, South Africa and the United States, according to independent estimates, are likely to require further action, possibly supplemented by purchased offsets, in order to meet their 2020 pledges.
Still, many countries are at the high end of the range they had given as a target in reaching their 2020 goal. This will make meeting the 2030 targets harder, the U.N. study said.
“If the current NDCs are fully implemented, the carbon budget for limiting global warming to below v with higher than 66 percent probability will be about 80 percent depleted by 2030,” the report said. “Given currently available carbon budget estimates, the available global carbon budget for 1.5°C with at least 50 percent probability will already be well depleted by 2030.”
Under current policies the annual equivalent carbon dioxide emissions in 2025 would be an estimated 55.4 gigatons. For a pathway toward the 2°C target, they should be at 47.7 gigatons—a 7.7-gigaton gap, the U.N. study said. To meet the 1.5°C goal emissions should be even lower at 44.5 gigatons.
By 2030, the gap between current policy and the 2°C target grows to 17.1 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent.
PwC created a “Low Carbon Index” to track the rate of low carbon transition in the economies of G20 and compares this to their national targets.
By this measure, the United Kingdom and China were the top performers followed by Mexico, Australia and Brazil.
Poor performers by this metric include Indonesia, Argentina, Turkey and South Africa.
“In the future we project economic growth at 2.1 percent, so carbon emissions need to fall by over 4 percent every year on average to hit the 2°C target,” the PwC analysis said. “The considerable gap between current progress, the national targets and the global 2°C goal highlight the risk to business and society.”