Countries must act now on climate commitments, UN warns

The United Nations (UN) has warned that countries cannot afford to wait until the end of 2020 to make new climate commitments and has urged them to act now.

On 26 November, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), published its Emissions Gap Report, in which it said based on current unconditional pledges, the world is facing a 3.2°C temperature rise – substantially more than the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Agreement. Had serious climate action commenced in 2010, the cuts required the meet the projected emission level for 1.5°C would only have had to be 3.3% per year, on average. Instead, global greenhouse gas emissions must now fall by 7.6% each year between 2020 and 2030 to get back on track.

UNEP outlined how greenhouse gas emissions have increased at a rate of 1.5% per year in the last decade, reaching a record high of 55.3GtCO2e in 2018. It warned that the longer emissions take to peak, with there no sign of this occurring in the next few years, deeper and faster cuts will be required. As it stands, emissions will have to be 55% lower in 2030 than in 2018 if the world is to be on the least-cost pathway to limiting global warming to below 1.5°C.

With the majority of emissions coming from G20 members (78%), the report said that they will prove influential in deciding the extent to which the 2030 emissions gap is closed. It stressed that in 2020, nationally determined contribution (NDC) targets must be dramatically strengthened. If 1.5°C is to be achieved, ambitions will have to be increased fivefold. Any further delay in action will see even greater cuts required on such a scale, it would cause a serious deviation from current available pathways. Once factoring in the necessary adaption actions, the report warned that this could undermine the global economy while seriously damaging food security and biodiversity.

Decarbonising the global economy will require fundamental structural changes to achieve this, the report said, outlining a series of recommendations for how G20 members can enhance their ambitions. In the case of the EU-28, one of six members currently on course to meet its unconditional NDCs under current policies, the report called for it to adopt regulation to refrain from investment in fossil-fuel infrastructure and define a clear endpoint for the EU emissions trading system (ETS). This, it suggested, could be in the form of a cap that must lead to zero emissions. It also called for the EU ETS to be reformed to ensure more effective reductions of emissions in industrial applications.

Other recommendations to be made included adjusting framework and policies to enable 100% carbon-free electricity supply between 2040 and 2050; stepping up efforts to phase out coal-fired plants; and to shift towards increased use of public transport in line with the most ambitious Member States.

Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP, said collective failure to “act early and hard” on climate change had left the world facing the deep emissions cuts required. Andersen continued: “This shows that countries simply cannot wait until the end of 2020, when new climate commitments are due, to step up action. They – and every city, region, business and individual – need to act now. We need quick wins to reduce emissions as much as possible in 2020, then stronger Nationally Determined Contributions to kick-start the major transformations of economies and societies. We need to catch up on the years in which we procrastinated. If we don’t do this, the 1.5°C goal will be out of reach before 2030.”