We usually start with a written report on any new climate research, then throw in a video at the end to add impact to what we wrote. But if the purpose of our reporting is to change hearts and minds, we have to admit our usual practice isn’t working. The amount of climate altering emissions keeps going up instead of down, despite us standing on our heads to impress people with the seriousness of the situation. And so, to bring you the news about the latest UN Emissions Gap Report, we are going to start with the video and add the words later. Will that be more effective? Perhaps.
What Is An Emissions Gap Report?
The Emissions Gap Report is the UN Emissions Programme spotlight report launched annually in advance of the annual COP climate negotiations. The EGR tracks the gap between where global emissions are heading with current country commitments and where they ought to be to limit warming to 1.5°C. Each edition explores ways to bridge the emissions gap.
The report finds that there has been progress since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015. Greenhouse gas emissions in 2030, based on policies in place, were projected to increase by 16 per cent at the time of the agreement’s adoption. Today, the projected increase is 3 per cent. However, predicted 2030 greenhouse gas emissions still must fall by 28 per cent for the Paris Agreement 2°C pathway and 42 per cent for the 1.5°C pathway.
This year’s EGR says as things stand, fully implementing unconditional Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) made under the Paris Agreement in 2015 would put the world on track for limiting temperature rise to 2.9°C above pre-industrial levels this century. Fully implementing conditional NDCs would lower this to 2.5°C.
The report calls for all nations to accelerate economy-wide, low carbon development transformations. Countries with greater capacity and responsibility for emissions will need to take more ambitious action and support developing nations as they pursue low-emissions development growth.
The report looks at how stronger implementation can increase the chances of the next round of NDCs, due in 2025, bringing down greenhouse gas emissions in 2035 to levels consistent with 2°C and 1.5°C pathways. It also looks at the potential and risks of Carbon Dioxide Removal methods — such as nature based solutions and direct air carbon capture and storage.
Putting in place emissions cuts pledged by developing countries on condition of receiving financial and technical support would cut the temperature rise to 2.5C — still a catastrophic scenario. according to The Guardian. To get on track for the internationally agreed target of 1.5C, 22 billion tons of carbon dioxide must be cut from the currently projected total in 2030, the 2023 EGR report said. That is equivalent to 42% of global emissions and equals the output of the world’s five worst polluters — China, US, India, Russia and Japan.
The UN Responds To The EGR
Inger Andersen, the UNEP executive director, said of the Emissions Gap Report, “There is no person or economy left on the planet untouched by climate change, so we need to stop setting unwanted records on emissions, temperature and extreme weather. We must instead lift the needle out of the same old groove of insufficient action, and start setting other records — on cutting emissions and on climate finance.”
UN Secretary General António Guterres said: “Present trends are racing our planet down a dead end 3ºC temperature rise. This is a failure of leadership, a betrayal of the vulnerable, and a massive missed opportunity. Renewables have never been cheaper or more accessible. We know it is still possible to make the 1.5 degree limit a reality. It requires tearing out the poisoned root of the climate crisis — fossil fuels.”
We here at CleanTechnica have been preaching the same message for well over a decade. Stop Burning Fossil Fuels. Nothing else will do. And nothing costs less than doing the right thing. The cost of renewable energy keeps falling while the cost of capturing carbon keeps rising. From a simple economic approach, it is cheaper to not burn fossil fuels — assuming one cares a flying fig leaf about keeping the Earth from becoming a boiling cauldron that will no longer support human life.
Why spend trillions on nuclear power or hare brained geoengineering schemes when we can keep our planet habitable for less? Because some investors and banks will lose money? Are we really going to sacrifice our home planet on the altar of greed?
Secretary General Guterres added, “Leaders must drastically up their game now with record ambition, record action, and record emissions reductions. No more greenwashing. No more foot dragging.” He said at the upcoming COP 28 climate conference, nations must commit to tripling renewable energy capacity by 2030 and to phasing out fossil fuels with a clear end date. He said the recent climate agreement between China and the US was a positive step, but that much more needed to be done to restore trust between developed and developing countries after broken promises on delivering billions of dollars of climate aid.
Massive Fossil Fuel Expansion Planned
The UN warned earlier in November that the world’s fossil fuel producers were planning expansions that would blow the planet’s carbon budget twice over, which experts called “insanity”. Another recent report found that the state oil company of the United Arab Emirates, whose CEO, Sultan Al Jaber, will preside over Cop 28, has the largest net zero-busting expansion plans of any company in the world. This is the fellow we are relying on to save our planet? We are so screwed.
The 2023 EGR report, pointedly titled Broken Record, said that if all the long term pledges by countries to cut emissions to net zero by about 2050 were achieved, global temperature rise could be limited to 2ºC. However, if those net zero pledges “are not currently considered credible”. None of the G20 countries, which together produce 80% of CO2, are reducing emissions at a pace consistent with their net zero targets, it said.
Another report from UN Climate Change published on November 14, 2023, reached virtually the same conclusion as the UNEP report. It found that existing national pledges to cut emissions would mean global emissions in 2030 were 2% below 2019 levels, rather than the 43% cut required to limit global heating to 1.5ºC. “Governments are taking baby steps to avert the climate crisis. They [must] make bold strides forward at COP 28 in Dubai to get on track,” said Simon Stiell, the executive secretary of UN Climate Change.
Al Jaber is talking a good game, but how serious is he? “There is simply no time left for delays,” he says. “COP 28 must be a historic turning point in this critical decade for [countries] to seize the moment to commit to raise their ambition and to unite, act and deliver outcomes that keep 1.5ºC within reach, while leaving no one behind.” All very nice but the Emissions Gap Report is talking about 3ºC within this century. If that happens, sea levels will rise about 40 feet, drowning many of the world’s major cities.
Tom Mitchell, the executive director of the International Institute for Environment and Development, told The Guardian, “The world needs to take the brakes off” when it comes to climate action, which means addressing deeply embedded aspects of the economic, legal and financial status quo. “The international investment regime protecting the interests of big oil is one example,” he said, referring to the energy charter treaty, a system of secret courts that enables companies to sue governments over climate policies that would cut their future profits.
“Treaties and contracts that favor fossil fuel investors are holding back the green energy transition, even though we know most fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground if we are to prevent catastrophic heating,” he added. “The [treaties] must be reformed if we want to cut emissions and keep as much of Earth as possible habitable for our descendants.”
All we need to do is do what we know needs to be done. So let’s get busy doing it — while there’s still time.