UN report: governments must lead now to avoid consequences of 2°C temperature rise


The latest UNEP Emissions Gap Report is out and reveals the need for action to avoid dangerous temperature rise is at a critical point. The report reveals a growing gap between the emissions reductions needed to avoid irreversible impacts of climate change and the world’s projected emissions reductions. This finding highlights the shortcomings of current climate action plans. While the news of the widening emissions gap emphasizes the real danger of locking-in climate change impacts, it suggests that these consequences can be prevented with strong leadership focused on enacting aggressive policies and investments towards efficiency and sustainability. This research comes on the heels of several other high profile reports urging action to reduce emissions, and days before the world’s leaders meet in Doha, Qatar for the UN climate change negotiations.


RT @kellyrigg: New @UNEP Report shows why #COP18 must close the gap btn what #climate needs & what govts have pledged http://bit.ly/10lg0fh


Key Points

  • The latest UN Emissions Gap Report reveals that an upturn in economic activity has widened the gap between our current emissions pathway and the reductions needed by 2020 to keep the world below 2°C warming. It says for each year that effective climate action is not taken the costs of mitigation and adaptation increase. Delaying action until after 2020 will raise costs by 10-15% overall.
  • We are losing ground in the battle to limit the world’s warming to just 2°C, but it’s not lost yet. The UN outline several technologies we can harness to control global temperature rise. If we embrace technology that discourages deforestation and encourages the development of clean energy and greater efficiency in everything from industrial activity to residential buildings, we have a fighting chance to limit global temperature rise to tolerable levels.
  • While technology plays a key role in closing the emissions gap, ambitious political leadership remains the missing piece. It will take proactive leadership to commit to binding emissions reductions targets and to enact policies that quickly transition the world from dirty fuel sources to cleaner, safer sources. Governments have the opportunity at the upcoming climate talks in Doha, Qatar to finally demonstrate that leadership.


Virtually all of the world’s governments have already committed to keeping global temperature rise below 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels. Scientist agree that warming above 2°C will lead to potentially catastrophic effects from climate change. In order to meet this goal, it is estimated that global emissions in 2020 must be at a maximum of 44 gigatons (Gt/per year).

Beginning in 2010, UNEP has commissioned annual research to estimate the 2020 ‘emissions gap,’ or the gap between the emissions reductions needed to avoid irreversible impacts of climate change and the world’s projected emissions reductions.

This year’s report indicates that current greenhouse gas emissions rates (based on 2010 data) are at 50.1 Gt – which reflects an uptick after the 2008 and 2009 recession. Because of this, the 2020 emissions gap has increased from previous estimates, and is now likely to be between 8 and 13 Gt depending on adherence to emissions reductions pledges. This shows, unfortunately, that current pledges and rules – even implemented in their strongest forms internationally – are still 8 Gt short of what is needed for staying below the tolerable level of 2°C warming.

This growth in the emissions gap increases the burden on international leaders to re-evaluate the strength of their plans to effectively tackle climate change by the end of the decade. Only by aggressively implementing comprehensive climate action plans, and agreeing to a strong international climate change treaty, can the world’s nations count on avoiding the worst impacts of climate change.

The report also notes that less ambitious action plans – those with lower upfront costs but higher emissions in 2020 – are likely to increase both mitigation and adaptation costs in the long-term due to increased lock-in of fossil fuel technology as well as climate change impacts that are more severe and costly.

The report also points to policies and investments that have the potential to close the emissions gap. For example, short term investments in the energy efficiency of buildings can return 2.1 Gt in CO2 equivalent cuts by 2020, and 9 Gt in cuts by 2050. Investing in public transportation, fuel efficiency measures, and land planning that encourages cycling and walking can also return up to 2 Gt in cuts by 2020. Additionally, largely under-utilized policies that protect forests – which act as carbon sinks – are low cost ways to avoid greenhouse gas emissions that deserve more investment.





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Findings from the report

  • Emissions are too high: Greenhouse gas emissions levels are now around 14 per cent above where they need to be in 2020. Instead of declining, concentration of warming gases like carbon dioxide (C02) are actually increasing in the atmosphere—up around 20 per cent since 2000.
  • Time running out: If no swift action is taken by nations emissions are likely to be at 58 gigatonnes (Gt) in eight years’ time, says the report which has involved 55 scientists from more than 20 countries.
  • Solutions are possible: The report estimates that there are potentially large emissions reductions possible—in a mid-range of 17 Gt of C02 equivalents – from sectors such as buildings, power generation and transport that can more than bridge the gap by 2020.
  • Costs of inaction: Preliminary economic assessments, highlighted in the new report, estimate that inaction will trigger costs likely to be at least 10 to 15 per cent higher after 2020 if the needed emission reductions are delayed into the following decades.
  • Bridging the Gap: Improved energy efficiency in industry could deliver cuts of between 1.5 to 4.6 Gt of C02 equivalent; followed by agriculture, 1.1 to 4.3 Gt; forestry 1.3 to 4.2 Gt; the power sector, 2.2 to 3.9 Gt; buildings 1.4 to 2.9 Gt; transportation, including shipping and aviation, 1.7 to 2.5 Gt, and the waste sector around 0.8 Gt.
  • Buildings: The report points out that some sectors have even bigger potential over the long term—boosting the energy efficiency of buildings, for example, could deliver average reductions of around 2.1 Gt by 2020 but cuts of over 9Gt C02 equivalent by 2050.
  • Sustainable Transportation: Potential emissions reductions from the transportation sector are assessed at 2 Gt of C02 equivalent by 2020.
  • Deforestation: Policies to assist in reducing deforestation and thus greenhouse gas emissions include establishing protected areas like National Parks to economic instruments such as taxes, subsidies and payments for ecosystem services. Although it remained under-utilized, avoided deforestation is considered a low cost greenhouse gas emissions reductions option in the report.


Supporting Quotes

“There are two realities encapsulated in this report—that bridging the gap remains doable with existing technologies and policies; that there are many inspiring actions taking place at the national level on energy efficiency in buildings, investing in forests to avoid emissions linked with deforestation; new vehicle emissions standards alongside a remarkable growth in investment in new renewable energies world-wide which in 2011 totaled close to $260 billion”. – Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director

“Yet the sobering fact remains that a transition to a low carbon, inclusive Green Economy is happening far too slowly and the opportunity for meeting the 44 Gt target is narrowing annually.” – Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Directo

“This report is a reminder that time is running out, but that the technical means and the policy tools to allow the world to stay below a maximum 2 degrees Celsius are still available to governments and societies”. – Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change

“Governments meeting in Doha for COP18 now need to urgently implement existing decisions which will allow for a swifter transition towards a low-carbon and resilient world. This notably means amending the Kyoto Protocol, developing a clear vision of how greenhouse gases can be curbed globally before and after 2020, and completing the institutions required to help developing countries green their economies and adapt, along with defining how the long-term climate finance that developing countries need can be mobilized. In addition, governments need to urgently identify how ambition can be raised,” – Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change