A green pandemic recovery could cut up to 25 per cent off predicted 2030 greenhouse gas emissions and bring the world closer to meeting the 2°C goal of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, a new UN Environment Programme (UNEP) report finds.
UNEP’s annual Emissions Gap Report 2020 finds that, despite a dip in 2020 carbon dioxide emissions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the world is still heading for a temperature rise in excess of 3°C this century.
However, if governments invest in climate action as part of pandemic recovery and solidify emerging net-zero commitments with strengthened pledges at the next climate meeting – taking place in Glasgow in November 2021 – they can bring emissions to levels broadly consistent with the 2°C goal.
Each year, the Emissions Gap Report assesses the gap between anticipated emissions and levels consistent with the Paris Agreement goals of limiting global warming this century to well below 2°C and pursuing 1.5°C. This difference between “where we are likely to be and where we need to be” is known as the emissions gap.
The report finds that in 2019 total greenhouse gas emissions, including land-use change, reached a new high of 59.1 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent (GtCO2e). Global greenhouse gas emissions have grown 1.4 per cent per year since 2010 on average, with a more rapid increase of 2.6 per cent in 2019 due to a large increase in forest fires.
“UNEP’s Emissions Gap report shows that a green pandemic recovery can take a huge slice out of greenhouse gas emissions and help slow climate change. I urge governments to back a green recovery in the next stage of COVID-19 fiscal interventions and raise significantly their climate ambitions in 2021,” Inger Andersen, UNEP’s Executive Director, told a press conference.
The Emissions Gap report complements WMO’s Greenhouse Gas Bulletin, which showed that the impact of the lockdown on CO2 concentrations - the result of cumulative past and current emissions - is in fact no bigger than the normal year to year fluctuations in the carbon cycle and the high natural variability in carbon sinks like vegetation.
CO2 levels saw another growth spurt in 2019 and the annual global average breached the significant threshold of 410 parts per million. Since 1990, there has been a 45% increase in total radiative forcing – the warming effect on the climate - by long-lived greenhouse gases, with CO
2 accounting for four fifths of this.
“WMO monitors what is happening in the atmosphere. We are still seeing an increase in the main greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. This has been happening year by year,” WMO Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas said at the Emissions Gap press conference.
“CO2 has caused two thirds of the warming so far, and its very long lifetime makes it the main climate mitigation challenge. The second important gas, methane has contributed one sixth of the warming, and is an easier problem due to its lifetime of only 11 years,” said Prof. Taalas. “We welcome that a growing number of countries are joining the carbon neutral club. What matters now is real action,” he said.
The release of the Emissions Gap report comes on the eve of the Climate Ambition Summit, held to increase the level of climate action on the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement.