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UNEP: Current climate commitments are ‘weak promises, not yet delivered’
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UNEP: Current climate commitments are ‘weak promises, not yet delivered’


Despite stronger climate policies and greater ambition in the most recent national pledges, there is still a gap between near-term commitments to the Paris Agreement and what is needed to limit global warming to well-below 2C.

This concludes the UNEP 2021 Emissions Gap report? which explores the impact of new pledges and the “gap” to the Paris targets. (Carbon Brief’s archives include detailed coverage of the annual UNEP reports in 2014? 2015? 2016? 2017? 2018, 2019 2020

The new report shows that 121 countries have updated their information, but only 121 of them have done so. Nationally Determined Contributions(NDCs), in accordance to the Paris AgreementThe effect of these was relatively limited in the days leading up to the COP26 summit.

The new pledges, which are lower than the NDCs before them, are expected to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by around 2.9bn tons of CO2 equivalent (GtCO2e).

It states that countries must pledge to reduce their emissions by an additional 11-13GtCO2e in 2030 and 25-28GtCO2e in 1.5C, to put the world on track for below two degrees Celsius warming by 2100.

Last year, UNEP had highlighted hopes of a “green recovery” from Covid-19, but this has largely failed to materialise, the report finds. Global emissions will likely remain below the peak of 2019 in 2021, but this difference will be minimal, as much of the Covid-19 report shows. emissions declinesAlready erased as the global economic recovery takes place.

UNEP claims that the 1.5C target is getting harder to reach with each year in which emissions increase or remain flat. Limiting global warming to the “well below” 2C goal is also becoming more difficult with every passing year in which emissions continue to grow.

According to UNEP, the world is likely to warm by about 2.6C by 2100 under current policies. This uncertainty range can reach up to 3.5C due to uncertainties in climate system responses and emissions pathways.

If countries meet both conditional and unconditionalNDCs would see this drop to 2.4C, with a range of up to 3.3C. If countries achieve all their mid-century net zero targets, it would be around 2C with a range of up to 2.8C

These warming projections are very similar to other recent estimates made by both Climate Action Tracker (CAT) and the International Energy Agency (IEA)’s 2021 World Energy Outlook.

The report shows that approximately 57% of the world’s GHG emissions were committed to reaching net-zero by 2021. (This does not include recent commitments(Australasia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Australia.

Only a small subset have enshrined these targets into law and the report stresses that there is an “urgent need to back these pledges up with near-term targets and actions”.

Emissions quickly recover from Covid-19 lull

Each UNEP report analyses the previous year’s emissions. However, this year’s report also includes some analysis of 2021’s projected emissions, thanks to new tools such as Carbon MonitorThese provide real-time updates on global emissions.

The new report shows that global fossil CO2 emission fell by 5.4% in 2020, compared to 2019. The emissions were down in nearly every country on Earth. It projects a strong rebound for 2021 as countries recover after the Covid-19 pandemic.

While global fossil CO2 emissions for 2021 are expected to remain at 1% below 2019 levels (though some countries such as Brazil, Russia, China and Brazil will likely exceed their pre-pandemic 2019 levels),
Below is a UNEP report that shows the change in national emission between 2019-2020 (pink bars), as well as between 2019 and 2021. China is a major player in the global climate change game. large roleThis year’s global total will be held steady with an estimated 8% increase in comparison to 2019.

Change in global fossil CO2 emissions between 2019-2020 and 2019-2021
Changes in global fossil CO2 omissions between 2019-2021 (pink) & 2019-2021 (purple), by country(*) (Carbon Monitor). Figure 2.2 from the UNEP Liu et al 2020.Emissions Gap ReportThe 2020 UNEP Report

that countries could use economic stimulus efforts to promote a “green recovery” from Covid-19, helping accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels.expressed considerable hopeThe UNEP report shows that the majority of countries have not pursued this path even a year later. As the UNEP report points out:

“Most governments have so far failed to prioritise a transformative low-carbon recovery, with the relatively insignificant low-carbon investment announced to date likely to maintain current unsustainable situations.”

It found that between 2.5% and 12.1% (or $16.7tn) of global Covid-19 expenditures were either specifically focused on low carbon technologies or had significant mitigation benefits.

The vast majority of this has occurred in wealthy countries, while middle-income or poorer countries have made very little. recoveryThe report shows the Covid-related fiscal spending and recovery spending in G20 nations in total and as a percentage of national GDP rated according to emission impact. This can be seen in the figure below.

Overview of fiscal rescue measures and recovery measures by G20 members with high carbon, neutral and/or low-carbon impacts as a percentage of 2020 GDP. Data from the

Overview of fiscal rescue and recovery measures of G20 members with high-carbon, neutral and low-carbon impacts in total and as a share of 2020 GDP
(GRO) Global Recovery Observatory? University of OxfordThe OECD Green Recovery DatabaseThis is Green Recovery Tracker(E3G). Figure 5.3 in Third Generation Environmentalism.UNEP Emissions Gap ReportThe report shows that only South Korea and Canada have had notable positive spending. Although it is possible to rebalance spending toward emission mitigation goals, it is too late. The window to make a real impact is closing fast.

Slowly closing the emissions gap

The figure below, adapted from the report, shows UNEP’s latest emissions gap analysis at a glance. Emission trajectories associated with policies that were in place in 2010 – but nothing after that point – are shown in red and current policies already implemented by governments in orange.

Additional commitments

For unconditional commitments, yellow is shown. Light blue is for conditions on aid or actions by other countries. The blue, purple, and gray colors indicate emission paths that are consistent with staying below 2C or avoiding 1.8C, and respectively, avoiding 1.5C.NDCs

Median emission scenarios taken from Figure 3.1 in

Median emission scenarios adapted from Figure 3.1 in the UNEP Emission Gap Report 2021

. The red line represents a scenario that has no new climate policies since 2010, while the orange line represents existing policies. The yellow and light-blue lines are additional conditional and unconditional NDCs. The blue and purple lines show emissions consistent in a trajectory below 2C, 1.8C and 1.5C. Carbon Brief Chart UNEP Emission Gap Report 2021.

HighchartsThere is a wide gap between the countries that have committed to future emission reductions and what would be required to achieve the Paris Agreement goals.

UNEP claims that current NDCs will result in global emission levels plateauing in 2020 and declining only slightly through 2030. They would leave the planet with an additional 11-13GtCO2e and 25-28GtCO2e for below 2C in 2030.

The 2021 emissions gap is modestly smaller than was reported in the 2020 UNEP report – by 1-2GtCO2e for limiting warming below 2C and 4GtCO2e for 1.5C.

This difference is not enough to hide a larger change in reports: The 2021 Report lowers current projections of emissions for 2030 by 4GtCO2e.

This is the first time the current policy scenario has been substantively updated since the 2017 UNEP report and reflects the accelerated adoption of policies by countries, declining clean energy costs, as well as some effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on emissions projections.

Similarly, the 2030 emissions outcomes associated with unconditional and conditional NDCs were lowered by 4GtCO2e and 2.9GtCO2e, respectively – also representing the first update in projected emissions if countries meet their NDCs since 2017.

UNEP published a new report on the emissions gap, in addition to the previously published one.

This figure shows the differences in fossil-fuel production plans between countries and fossil-fuel output implied by climate promises. Also, it highlights what would be required to limit global warming to below 2C or below 1,5C.2021 Production Gap report

Figure 2.1 shows emission scenarios.

Emission scenarios adapted from Figure 2.1 in the UNEP Production Gap Report 2021

. Red line shows country plans, projections, orange shows production implied climate pledges, blue shows emissions consistent below 2C trajectory, and grey shows emissions consistent 1.5C trajectory. Carbon Brief Chart UNEP Production Gap Report 2021.

HighchartsAccording to country-level fossil-fuel production plans, there is a 17.8GtCO2 emissions gap in 2030. This is compared to what would have to be done to limit global warming to well-below 2C or 24.5GtCO2 relative to the below-1.5C scenario.

If current pledges are taken into account, this production gap shrinks modestly to 14.8GtCO2 compared with a well-below 2C scenario and  21.5GtCO2 for below-1.5C.

Although there is still a large gap in emissions between current NDCs, and what would be needed to support 1.5C and 2C scenarios respectively, there are some reasons for cautious optimism. A growing number of countries have established net-zero emission targets. Over the past two years, many major emitters have announced 2050 and 2060 targets.

Currently, 136 countries have either made or are considering a commitment to a net zero target. UNEP’s emissions gap report lists 50 parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. This includes 49 countries and the European Union.

(UNEP’s list reflects developments up to 13 September 2021, meaning it misses

Turkey, Russia and Saudi Arabia.recent commitmentsUNEP identified 50 countries which account for 57% global GHG emissions. They include major emitters such the United States.

US, EU. China, Japan. Korea, Canada. South Africa. Argentina. However, there are significant differences between long-term climate goals and the short to medium term actions that are required to achieve them.UKUNEP’s report shows that only 11 countries have targets that cover 12% of global emission. How these long-term targets are translated into more concrete near-term commitments will determine how serious they should be taken.

Where is the world heading today?

Ten years ago, the world appeared to have reached extreme warming. The scenarios for 4C and 5C were possible, as well as a doubling, or tripling, of emissions by the year 2050.

.appearing plausibleYet the last decade has seen tighter climate policy and the decline of coal consumption – which the

(IEA) argues is now in “International Energy Agency” globally.structural declineA variety of groups have evaluated possible climate outcomes under current policies, pledges, and stated policies like the Paris NDCs and long term net-zero targets.

The following figure shows the warming in these three scenarios from the UNEP report, and similar assessments by

(CAT) and the IEA’s 2021 Climate Action TrackerWorld Energy Outlook

Projections of global mean surface warming in 2100, relative to preindustrial levels

Global mean surface warming projections in 2100 relative to preindustrial levels

Report UNEP Emissions Gap(CAT) and IEA Climate Action Tracker. The central estimate (50th percentile), shown in bars, and uncertainties in brackets. The Stated Policies value refers to the “Conditional NDC” case for UNEP. Stated Policies is not a guarantee that NDCs are met, but it does not necessarily imply they are for the IEA. UNEP does not provide the upper bound for uncertainty. UNEP assumes that uncertainties arising from post-2030 emission pathways and climate system uncertainties are independent. World Energy Outlook 2021. Chart by Carbon Brief added in quadrature.

HighchartsIn a world characterised by policies in place today – where no additional climate policies are enacted prior to 2100 – UNEP estimates that the world will most likely warm by around 2.6C, with a 90th percentile estimate of 3.5C.

This is significantly lower than the CAT estimate (ranging from 2.1C through 3.9C) as well as the estimate provided in

.2020 emissions gap reportThe 2020 report shows a decrease in temperature, but this is also due to additional climate policies being adopted and some effects from the Covid-19 economic downturn. It is not clear what caused the difference in UNEP and CAT’s current policy warming estimates.

In a world where countries meet their stated policies, including NDC commitments, UNEP and CAT both project around 2.4C warming, with warming up to 3.3C possible in UNEP’s estimate and 1.9C to 3C in CAT’s estimate. UNEP includes only NDC commitments (both conditional and unconditional) in the values shown in the figure above, while the CAT definition of stated policies (which they call “pledges and targets”) is a bit more expansive, incorporating near-term pledges that might not have been translated into formal NDCs. 

According to the IEA policy scenario, there will be a 2.6C warming (1.9C-3.7C) The IEA scenario

All countries will meet their NDCs. Instead, it is a case-bycase approach to determining whether specific sectoral promises will be fulfilled.does not necessarily assumeFinally, if all countries that had made such commitments by mid-September meet their pledges to reach net-zero emissions in 2050 or 2060, the UNEP and CAT both project around 2C warming by 2100 – with up to 2.8C possible in UNEP and a range of 1.6C to 2.6C in CAT. The IEA offers a similar estimate of 2.1C and a range of 1.5C-3C.

The UNEP report tends not to focus on 50% outcomes. This means that the world faces a 66% chance of avoiding the rising temperature. These figures are a little higher than the central estimate of 2.8C to cover current policies, 2.6C to cover conditional NDCs, and 2.2C to cover net-zero commitments.

What it would take in order to limit global warming to 1.5C or 2C?

It is very rare.

There is still time for global warming to be below 1.5C. With 2021 emissions expected to be slightly below those in 2019, there will be only around 417GtCO2 – or 10 years of current emissions – remaining that can be emitted before the world has a 50/50 chance of exceeding 1.5C warming.carbon budgetFor a 66% chance of avoiding 1.5C warming, the remaining carbon budget after 2021 would only be around 317GtCO2 – or around seven years of current emissions.

This carbon budget can be increased by widespread use

(NETs) later in the century – as occurs in the 1.5C scenarios in the negative emissions technologies – there is some new IPCC reportIt is risky to place your bets on NETs that have yet to be proven at scale.reluctanceThe figure below is adapted from one by

The following chart shows emission trajectories to limit global warming to below 1.5C if there is no climate change CICERO’s Dr Robbie Andrews. The different lines indicate the emission reductions required if the emissions peak was between 2000 and 2030. The current year (2021), is highlighted in emissions

Emission reduction trajectories associated to a 66% chance that warming below 1.5C without relying on net-negative emission, starting year. Solid black lines show historical emissions, while dashed lines show emissions constant at 2021 level. Source: Historical CO2 emission data from the

Emission reduction trajectories associated with a 66 percent chance of limiting warming below 1.5C

. 1.5C carbon budgets are based on Global Carbon Project. Original figure taken from IPCC AR6 report. Chart by Carbon Brief Robbie Andrews.

HighchartsThe 1.5C target would have been easier to reach if emissions had declined after 2000. It would only have required a reduction of 3% per annum. To limit warming to below 1.5C, starting in 2021 and continuing through 2040, it would be possible to do so without the use NETs. This would require an approximately 14% reduction each year.

With the inclusion NETs, it is possible create scenarios to limit global warming below 1.5C that don’t require a dramatic drop in emissions over the next years. These scenarios, however, depend on

of NETs in order to “suck” an amount from the atmosphere equivalent to between a quarter and half of the world’s current human-caused emissions from the atmosphere each year.planetary scale deploymentThe UNEP report states that each year without global emission reductions makes the 1.5C target more difficult to reach. While the Paris Agreement’s “well below” 2C target is easier to achieve than 1.5C, delays will make it increasingly difficult, too.

Carbon Brief’s interactive chart below shows the emission reductions needed, by peaking year, to meet the 2C target without use of net-negative emissions.

Emission reduction trajectories are associated with a 66% chance to limit warming below 2C without net negative emissions, starting year. Solid black lines show historical emissions, while dashed lines show emissions constant at 2021 level. Source: Historical CO2 emission data from the

Emission reduction trajectories associated with a 66 percent chance of limiting warming below 2C

Based on the Global Carbon Project.. Original figure taken from IPCC AR6 reportChart by Carbon Brief Robbie Andrews..

HighchartsWith each passing year, it becomes more difficult to reduce the gap between what is actually happening in the world and what is needed to limit global warming to Paris Agreement targets for 1.5C and 2.C.

While the recent net-zero commitments by a number of major emitting nations are an important step in the right direction, UNEP says the proof will be in the extent to which countries “back these pledges up with near-term targets and actions that give confidence that net-zero emissions can ultimately be achieved and the remaining carbon budget kept”.

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