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Updated climate commitments still falling short of global temperature goals: UNEP


Eight years left to almost halve emissions: UNEP

Eyes on closing global 'emissions gap' as COP26 summit looms

UNEP highlights potential for methane and carbon markets

  • Author
  • Frank Watson
  • Editor
  • Kshitiz Goliya
  • Commodity
  • Agriculture Coal Electric Power Energy Transition Natural Gas

New and updated climate commitments from governments still fall short of the effort needed to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change, the United Nations Environment Program said in a report Oct. 26.

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Current commitments by countries leave the world on track for a temperature rise of at least 2.7 degrees Celsius this century -- well above a global goal to limit warming to 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels.

"Climate change is no longer a future problem. It is a now problem," said UNEP Executive Director, Inger Andersen.

"To stand a chance of limiting global warming to 1.5 C, we have eight years to almost halve greenhouse gas emissions: eight years to make the plans, put in place the policies, implement them and ultimately deliver the cuts. The clock is ticking loudly," she said in a statement.

The report found that countries' updated Nationally Determined Contributions -- and other commitments made for 2030 but not yet submitted in an updated NDC -- only take an additional 7.5% off predicted annual greenhouse gas emissions in 2030, compared with the previous round of commitments.

Reductions of 30% are needed to stay on the least-cost pathway for 2 degrees C and 55% cuts for 1.5 C, it said.

Coming ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow Nov. 1-12, UNEP's report found that net-zero emissions pledges could make a big difference.

"If fully implemented, these pledges could bring the predicted global temperature rise to 2.2 C, providing hope that further action could still head off the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. However, net-zero pledges are still vague, incomplete in many cases, and inconsistent with most 2030 NDCs," UNEP said.

To have any chance of limiting warming to 1.5 C, the world has eight years to take an additional 28 billion mt of CO2 equivalent greenhouse gases off global emissions, over and above what is promised in the updated NDCs and other 2030 commitments, it said.

"To put this number into perspective, carbon dioxide emissions alone are expected to reach 33 gigatons [billion mt] in 2021. When all other greenhouse gases are taken into account, annual emissions are close to 60 Gt CO2e.

"So to have a chance of reaching the 1.5 C target, we need to almost halve greenhouse gas emissions. For the 2 C target, the additional need is lower: a drop in annual emissions of 13 Gt CO2e by 2030," UNEP said.

Focus on methane, carbon markets

Methane emissions in particular offer a massive opportunity to curb the global temperature rise, UNEP said, as the gas is 80 times more potent than CO2 over a 20-year period.

"Available no- or low-cost technical measures alone could reduce anthropogenic methane emissions by around 20% per year," UNEP said.

Along with broader structural and behavioral measures, this reduction figure could be expanded to 45% per year, it said.

"Carbon markets, meanwhile, have the potential to reduce costs and thereby encourage more ambitious reduction pledges, but only if rules are clearly defined, are designed to ensure that transactions reflect actual reductions in emissions, and are supported by arrangements to track progress and provide transparency," UNEP said.

Closing 13 billion mt gap

Highlighting the scale of action needed to achieve global temperature targets, global emissions from fossil fuel combustion are expected to reach 34.17 billion mt in 2040 under a September 2021 Reference case by S&P Global Platts Analytics.

That is almost 13 billion mt above the 21.25 billion mt forecast under Platts Analytics Two Degrees Outlook for 2040. Both scenarios are based on Platts Analytics' Global Integrated Energy Model.

The emissions gap identified by UNEP, Platts Analytics, the International Energy Agency and dozens of think-tanks and industry groups, carries implications for a broad swathe of commodity markets because it implies that governments and industry will need to go significantly further in cutting emissions to avoid crossing temperature thresholds.

Large-scale emissions abatement options include:

  • Further displacement of coal and lignite for power generation in favor of natural gas, renewable energy and nuclear power
  • A switch to electric and other low-carbon vehicles including fuel cell technologies and biofuels
  • Hydrogen to displace gas in industry and buildings
  • Biofuels and other low-carbon fuels in shipping and aviation
  • Reducing methane emissions from venting, flaring and fugitive emissions
  • Potential use of carbon capture and storage technologies
  • The deployment of land-use projects and technology to absorb atmospheric carbon
  • Energy efficiency programs in energy generation, industry, transportation, buildings and agriculture