New Delhi: The world needs to drastically reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that are causing climate change but these actually hit a new high in 2018, as per a new United Nations report.

GHG emissions peaked at 55.3 gigatonnes in 2018, at which rate the world will emit over the next nine years 480 gigatonnes of toxic gases that should have been spread across 81 years in order to control global warming.

Over 10 years to 2018, GHG emissions rose 1.5% annually and unless they fall by 7.6% each year over 10 years to 2030, the world will not be able to limit global warming to 1.5 deg-C as decided under the 2015 Paris Agreement, said the 10th edition of the Emissions Gap Report by United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) launched on November 26, 2019.

The findings are “bleak” and the global failure to stop the growth in global GHG emissions will necessitate deeper and faster emission cuts, said the report.

“This shows that countries simply cannot wait until the end of 2020, when new climate commitments are due, to step up action,” said UNEP’s executive director Inger Andersen in a statement. “They--and every city, region, business and individual--need to act now. If we don’t do this, the 1.5°C goal will be out of reach before 2030.”

Even as many countries of the G20 club--together, they account for around 78% of global GHG emissions--falter on their promises to cut emissions, India, the fourth-largest emitter, is on track to meet its national target set under the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) at the 2015 Paris Agreement. The pact aimed at limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5-2 deg-C, as we further explain.

The emission gap report--which marks the run-up to the 25th Conference of Parties on Climate Change (COP25) starting on December 2, 2019 in Spain--provides the latest assessment of scientific studies on current and estimated future GHG emissions. It also compares these with the levels permissible for the world to progress on the least-cost pathway to achieving the Paris goals.

At current emissions level, world will be 3.9 deg-C warmer by 2100

“There is no sign of GHG emissions peaking in the next few years; every year of postponed peaking means that deeper and faster cuts will be required,” the emission gap report said.

At the current level of emissions, global temperatures can be expected to rise by 3.4-3.9 deg-C by 2100, bringing wide-ranging and destructive climate impacts such as cyclones, wildfires, droughts and floods, the report concluded.

Even if all countries met their NDCs under the Paris Agreement, annual emissions will still reach 56 gigatonnes by 2030, the report said. This will lead to a 3.0-3.2 deg-C warmer world by the end of the century.

To limit the rise in global temperature to 1.5 deg-C, the annual GHG emission in 2030 needs to be 32 gigatonnes lower than what current NDCs imply, a 57% cut. Similarly, annual emissions in 2030 need to be 15 gigatonnes lower for the 2 deg-C goal, a 27% drop. On an annual basis, this means a 7.6% global emissions cut between 2020 and 2030 to meet the 1.5 deg-C goal and 2.7% to achieve the 2 deg-C target.

To deliver on these cuts, NDC ambitions must rise at least five times to meet the 1.5 deg-C goal and thrice to meet the 2 deg-C goal by 2020, said the report.

Had serious climate action begun in 2010, the average annual cuts required to meet the projected emission levels for 2°C and 1.5°C would have been just 0.7% and 3.3% respectively, the report said.

Hope lies with G20 nations

The report focuses especially on G20 member countries because they account for around 78% of global GHG emissions, as we said earlier. These countries will, thus, determine the extent to which the 2030 emissions gap will be closed.

Six members--China, the European Union (EU), India, Mexico, Russia and Turkey--are projected to meet their national NDC targets with current policies. Among them, three countries--India, Russia and Turkey--are likely to overachieve their emissions cut targets by 15%.

India should ramp up its efforts

India’s NDC includes:

  • Achievement of 40% of installed electricity capacity from non-fossil fuel sources
  • Reduction of the emissions intensity of its gross domestic product by 33-35% (from 2005 levels) by 2030
  • Creation of an additional 2.5-3 billion tonnes of carbon sinks [reservoirs that accumulate and store carbon dioxide] through the planting of additional forest and tree cover.

India’s progress indicates that it can increase its NDCs substantially, said the report, which also suggested that this can be achieved by:

  • Planning the transition from coal-fired power plants
  • Developing an economy-wide green industrialisation strategy towards zero-emission technologies
  • Expanding mass public transit systems
  • Developing domestic electric vehicle targets and working towards 100% new sales of zero-emission cars

However, key economies of the world continue to drag their feet on promised emission cuts. Seven G20-members--Australia, Brazil, Canada, Japan, the Republic of Korea, South Africa and the United States of America--require varying degrees of action to achieve their NDC, the report said.

In 2009, G20 members adopted a decision to gradually phase out fossil-fuel subsidies but none of them have committed yet to fully phasing these out by a specific deadline. And globally, CO2-centred GHG emissions from fossil fuel use in energy and industry sectors, which dominate overall emissions, grew 2% in 2018, reaching a record 37.5 gigatonnes per year, as per the report.

(Tripathi is an IndiaSpend reporting fellow.)

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