Governments and Non-State Actors Must Take Urgent Action to Reach the Objectives of the Paris Agreement

  • The pledges made at Paris only cover a third of the measures that will be needed to avoid drastic consequences from climate change.
  • By adopting new technologies in key sectors and investing less than 100 dollars per ton of CO2, emissions can be reduced by 32 gigatons per year by 2030.
  • The negative climatic consequences of CO2 emissions can be reduced through the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, through measures addressing short-lived climate pollutants, and through raised ambitions concerning the pledges made at Cancun for the climate by 2020,

According to a new UN study, governments and non-state actors must strive ambitiously to ensure meeting the objectives of the Paris Accord.

The eighth edition of the annual UN report on the gap between the needs and the outlook for emissions reduction (Emissions Gap Report), published in advance of the UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn, reveals that pledges made by countries at a national level only represent a third of the emissions reductions needed by 2030 to meet the objectives for the struggle against climate change. Measures taken in the private sector and at the subnational level are not increasing at a sufficient pace to bridge this unsettling gap.

The Paris Agreement aims to prevent global warming from going beyond 2°C, but an even more ambitious objective of 1.5°C was also suggested. Reaching these goals would reduce the risk of serious climatic consequences that would be harmful for humans, means of subsistence, and the economies of the entire world.

The way things are currently going, a complete implementation of conditional and unconditional intended nationally determined contributions would very likely be followed by an increase of temperatures by at least 3°C by 2100. “Unconditional” means that governments will be required to make more substantial pledges when they are revised in 2020.

In case the United States follows through with its declared intention to leave the Paris Agreement in 2020, the scenario could be even darker.

Nevertheless, the report offers practical solutions for drastically reducing CO2 emissions by quickly developing mitigation measures based on existing models in the fields of agriculture, construction, energy, forestry, industry and transportation.

The reduction of CO2 emissions can also be greatly helped by strong measures to reduce climate pollutants, for example hydrofluorocarbons (through the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol), as well as other short-lived pollutants such as black carbon.

“A year after the entry into force of the Paris Agreement, we find ourselves in a situation where the efforts being made are still inadequate to avoid a miserable future for hundreds of millions of people,” says Erik Solheim, the Executive Director of UN Environment.

“It’s unacceptable. If we invest in adequate technologies and ensure that the private sector is involved, it will be possible to respect the promise we’ve made to our children to protect their future.  We have to deal with this right now.”

CO2 emissions were stable in 2014, thanks in part to the transition towards renewable energy sources, especially in China and India. This aroused hope that emissions had reached their peak and would follow a downward trajectory until 2020. Nevertheless, the report revealed that other greenhouse gases, such as methane, continue to increase, and the acceleration of global economic growth could be responsible for an increase of CO2 emissions.

The report shows that the pledges made under the Paris Agreement would lead to a level of emissions equal to 11 to 13.5 gigatons of carbon dioxide (GtCO2eq) in 2030, which is above the level required to keep the world on the least costly path and meet the 2°C temperature increase objective. A gigaton is roughly equal to the emissions produced in a year by the transportation industry (including aviation) in the EU.

According to new, recently published studies, the emissions gap for the goal of 1.5°C of global warming is between 16 and 19 GtCO2eq, more severe than previously anticipated.

“The Paris Agreement gave a new impetus to the struggle against climate change, but this impetus is weakening,” says Edgar E. Gutiérrez-Espeleta, Costa Rica’s Minister of Environment and Energy and also the President of the United Nations Assembly for the Environment in 2017. “We are facing a painful decision: raise our ambitions or suffer the consequences of lowering them.”

Investing in technology is the key to success

In order to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement, governments (including by increasing their pledges), the private sector, cities and other stakeholders absolutely must follow up on the initial measures, which will lead to rapid and profound emissions reductions.

The report details different ways to get there, particularly in the fields of agriculture, construction, energy, forestry, industry and transportation. Investments in technologies specific to these sectors — costing less than 100 dollars per ton of CO2 avoided, and often a lot less – could help avoid up to 36 GtCO2eq per year by 2030.

By themselves, these reductions would put the world on the path to reaching the 2°C objective and open up the possibility of reaching the ambitious goal of 1.5°C.

Non-state measures and other initiatives

The measures promised by non-state and subnational entities (such as cities and the private sector) can reduce the 2030 emissions gap by several GtCO2eq, even taking into account overlaps with the nationally determined contributions. For example, the 100 listed companies responsible for the most emissions in the world represent around a fourth of global greenhouse gas emissions, which gives us a lot of leeway to hope for higher ambitions.

The Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol aims to eliminate the use and production of hydrofluorocarbons, chemicals mainly used for air conditioning, refrigeration and insulating foam. Even if it was implemented with success, it would intervene too late to have an impact on the emissions gap in 2030, but it could still significantly contribute to reaching temperature goals in the longer term.

By the middle of the century, the reduction of short-lived climate pollutants, such as black carbon and methane, could reduce the effects from cumulative heat absorption and help to maintain a stable lowered trajectory for temperatures in accordance with the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement.

Furthermore, although the G20 are collectively on the right path for respecting their climate pledges made at Cancun for 2020, these pledges are not ambitious enough to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement (see attached analysis of the Cancun pledges). The year 2020 is approaching fast, yet the G20 countries can still take measures that will lead to emissions reductions in the short term and open the way for more changes over the course of the next decade.

It would be of great help to stop opening new coal power plants and accelerate the closing of existing plants, while also ensuring proper management of problems like unemployment, investors’ interests and grid stability. There are an estimated 6,683 active coal power plants in the world, with a combined capacity of 1,964 GW. If these plants were used until the end of their lifespan and not reconfigured for carbon capture and storage, they would emit 190 gigatons of cumulative CO2.

At the start of the year 2017, an additional capacity of 273 GW from coal power plants was under construction and a capacity of 570 GW was in pre-construction. These new plants could produce additional cumulative emissions of around 150 GtCO2eq. Approximately 85% of all coal pipelines are in 10 countries: China, India, Turkey, Indonesia, Vietnam, Japan, Egypt, Bangladesh, Pakistan and South Korea.

The report also examines the elimination of CO2 from the atmosphere through afforestation, reforestation, forest management, restoring degraded lands, and improving carbon stocks in soil –- so many solutions for heading towards a reduction of emissions.

Furthermore, a new report published by the 1 Gigaton Coalition shows that renewable energy and energy efficiency projects undertaken by partners in developing countries can bring about a reduction of 1.4 GtCO2eq by 2020 – on the condition that the international community helps the developing countries adapt to climate change and reduce their emissions.

“Renewable energy and energy efficiency have many advantages, notably including better health for human beings and new jobs, so I implore the international community to provide the promised funds to support developing countries in their efforts to fight climate change,” said Ms. Ine Eriksen Søreide, Norway’s Foreign Minister. “The projects and policies in favor of renewable energy and energy efficiency supported by the partners are crucial for the decarbonization of the world, because they provide key resources and create favorable environments in critical regions.”

The 1 Gigaton Coalition is supported by UN Environment and the Norwegian government.

The advantages of a low-carbon society for the reduction of global pollution –- which would allow us to avoid, for example, millions of deaths linked to air pollution each year –- are also clearly illustrated in Towards a Pollution-free Planet, a report from the Executive Director of UN Environment that will be presented at the next UN Assembly for the Environment. The report presents an ambitious framework for fighting against pollution, through political leadership or through sustainable consumption and production, and by investing massively in sustainable development.

Sources

Annual Emissions Gap Report

Analysis of pledges made at G20 Cancun [French]

1 Gigaton Coalition Report

Translated by Ulysses from an article on CDURABLE.info