Further from Climate Goals Than We Thought

The distance has increased between climate commitments and the reduction of greenhouse gases needed if we are to meet the goals in the Paris Agreement.

greenhouse gases

The gap has widened between the climate action which the countries of the world have promised to take before 2030, and the initiatives needed if the goals of the Paris Agreement to keep global warming to well below two degrees centigrade—and, if possible, to limit the temperature increase to around one and a half degrees centigrade—are to be met by the end of this century.

This is the conclusion of the annual Emissions Gap Report, which has just been published. The report is published by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in collaboration with UNEP DTU Partnership, which forms part of DTU Management Engineering. John Christensen, Head of UNEP DTU Partnership, is one of the main authors of the report.

This is the ninth time the Emissions Gap Report is published, and the previous reports have already shown that there was a long way to go, and that the world was moving towards a global temperature increase of more than three degrees centigrade in 2100.

This year’s report shows—including based on new figures from the IPCC climate report—that we are further from the goal than we thought.

As the title of the report indicates, the Emissions Gap Report describes the gap between the countries’ objectives and their commitment to reducing greenhouse gases and the actual reduction required if we are to limit the global temperature increase.

“The commitments made by the world’s countries in the Paris Agreement are insufficient if we’re to meet the goals in the agreement. Technically, it’s still possible to ensure that global warming doesn’t exceed two degrees, and preferably remains below 1.5 degrees, so we avoid the worst consequences, but—unfortunately—it looks very difficult. The world’s countries must collectively accelerate the implementation of existing solutions, increase their ambitions, and present specific new objectives and targets for further reductions of greenhouse gas emissions,” says John Christensen.

This year’s report shows—among other findings—that there is a need for three to five times higher reductions in greenhouse gas emissions than the goals agreed by the world’s countries in the Paris Agreement. 

We are still setting new records for emissions

If the goals in the Paris Agreement are to be met, it is necessary to ensure that global greenhouse gas emissions peak before 2020. Unfortunately, the report shows that the current climate action is far from enough to ensure that this happens, and there are no indications that emissions are peaking.”There’s simply a lack of political visions for how our society and lives may be like in a climate-friendly future. But we need to step up a gear. There’s quite simply no alternative.”John Christensen, Head of UNEP DTU Partnership

In 2017, total greenhouse gas emissions once again set a new record with the equivalent of emissions of 53.5 gigatonnes—or 53,500,000,000 tonnes of CO2.

To meet the goal to keep the temperature increase below 1.5 degrees by the end of the century, this figure must be more than halved in 2030.

“It will have scary consequences for the whole world if we don’t change the current course. A halving of the emissions in the next twelve years may not be likely, but every half degree by which the temperature increases has huge consequences, which makes it extremely important to continue to increase our activities aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” says John Christensen.

He adds that the report unfortunately also shows that the vast majority of the world’s largest countries do not appear to be able to meet their climate goals in 2030.

“There’s thus both a large gap between what the world’s countries have promised to do and what is needed, and another gap between the commitments made and what’s actually being done.”

What needs to be done?

The Emissions Gap Report differs from many other climate reports in that it is not only a scare report. Like the reports published in previous years, this year’s report presents some of the most important opportunities for meeting the climate goals and documents that if there is a political will, there is a way to meet the goals based on existing solutions.

It points to the necessity of all countries not just working to honour their commitments under the Paris Agreement before 2030, but also drastically increasing their ambitions within the next two years.
In 2020, the world’s countries must update their climate goals, which are to contribute to the performance of the Paris Agreement. Although most countries thus do not yet meet their goals under the agreement, it is—according to John Christensen—a golden opportunity to raise the level of ambition and activity globally and correct the climate course of the globe.

The solutions already exist

The good news is that the technical solutions necessary to meet the goals and reduce greenhouse gas emissions sufficiently already exist. Technology that will not only help the climate, but also contribute positively to meeting several of the other 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

This particularly concerns technology in three areas: Sustainable energy, energy-efficient technology and transport, as well as a stop to deforestation.

The report points out that many countries’ fiscal policy must be geared to the necessary transition to an economy based on low greenhouse gas emissions in order to exploit the full potential of climate-friendly technology.

“There’s simply a lack of political visions for how our society and lives may be like in a climate-friendly future. It’s clear that a transition of the magnitude envisaged by this report—and that the world’s climate challenges generally call for—takes time. But we need to step up a gear. There’s quite simply no alternative,” says John Christensen.