Press Releases November 2010 - 5 Gigatonnes - the gap between climate science and current climate cuts after Copenhagen? - United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
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5 Gigatonnes - the gap between climate science and current climate cuts after Copenhagen?

Helsinki/Mexico City/Nairobi/London/Washington DC, 23 November 2010 - Nations have the chance to deliver almost 60 per cent of the emissions reductions needed to keep global temperatures under a 2 degrees Celsius rise.

But only if the pledges made last year in Copenhagen are fully met.

These are among the findings of a new report compiled by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and jointly authored by over 30 leading scientists from numerous international research institutes.

The report was convened in conjunction with the European Climate Foundation and the National Institute of Ecology-SEMARNAT, Mexico.

The findings, launched in advance of the UN climate convention meeting in Cancun, Mexico, spotlight the size of the 'emissions gap' between where nations might be in 2020 versus where the science indicates they need to be.

UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, said, "I encourage all Parties to make good on their national mitigation pledges, and to further progress within the negotiations as well as through strengthened efforts on the ground to curb emissions. There is no time to waste. By closing the gap between the science and current ambition levels, we can seize the opportunity to usher in a new era of low-carbon prosperity and sustainable development for all."

It is estimated that, in order to have a 'likely' and cost-effective chance of pegging temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius or below over the 21st Century, global emissions will need to have peaked within the next 10 years and be around 44 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent in 2020.

The report, whose compilation was led by the UNEP Chief Scientist, finds that:

  • Under a business-as-usual scenario, annual emissions of greenhouse gases could be around 56 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent by 2020. As a point of reference, global emissions were estimated to be around 48 gigatonnes in 2009;

  • Fully implementing the pledges and intentions associated with the Copenhagen Accord could, in the best case identified by the group, cut emissions to around 49 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent by 2020;

  • This would leave a gap of around 5 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent that needs to be bridged over the coming decade - an amount equal to the emissions of all the world's cars, buses and trucks in 2005;

  • In the worst case identified in the report - where countries follow their lowest ambitions and accounting rules set by negotiators are lax rather than strict - emissions could be as high as 53 gigatonnes in 2020, only slightly lower than business as usual projections.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said: "The results indicate that the UN meeting in Copenhagen could prove to have been more of a success than a failure if all the commitments, intentions and funding, including fully supporting the pledges of developing economies, are met."

"There is a gap between the science and current ambition levels. But, what this report shows is that the options on the table right now in the negotiations can get us almost 60 per cent of the way there. This is a good first step."

The Mexican Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources, Mr. Juan Rafael Elvira, added that "the level of effort expressed in the Copenhagen Accord in terms of emission reduction is almost three times higher that what was achieved with the Kyoto Protocol, which is by itself very positive and shows some improvement. However, we need to formalize and, if possible, increase current pledges and translate them into commitments for developed countries and into acknowledged actions for developing countries".

In addition, the report shows that the way in which the pledges are implemented - in other words how, for example, the accounting rules are set through the negotiations - can be almost as important as the big headline figures of the pledges themselves. In other words, the rules underpinning the emissions reduction matter as much as the pledges.

"This still leaves a gap of perhaps 5 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent - a gap that could be bridged by higher ambition on CO2 by developed and developing countries perhaps complimented by action on a range of so-called non-CO2 pollutants such as methane from waste tips to black carbon from the inefficient burning of biomass and animal wastes," said Mr. Steiner.

Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said: "The report underlines both the feasibility of emission reductions and the importance of international cooperation to raise the current inadequate level of ambition. Governments meeting at the UN Climate Conference in Cancún will need to both anchor the pledges they made in Copenhagen in the UN context and to work swiftly to agree ways to reduce emissions so that the world has a chance of staying below a 2 degrees Celsius temperature rise."

Background to the Gap Analysis

The assessment, entitled The Emissions Gap Report: Are the Copenhagen Accord pledges sufficient to limit global warming to 2 or 1.5°C?, is the work of over 30 researchers from 25 centres in countries including Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, China, Denmark, Germany, India, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.

It builds on work carried out in the wake of the UN climate change convention meeting in Copenhagen while also assessing the prospects and pathways for the even tougher target of keeping a global temperatures rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius or under over the century.

The report also assesses in an annex the individual pledges of more than a dozen key countries ranging from India to Russia and the United States.

The various scenarios include estimated emissions in 2020 if nations were to fully implement their most ambitious pledges versus the emissions in 2020 if nations meet only their minimum targets.

Many developing countries before, during and after Copenhagen and including South Africa, Indonesia and Mexico, have made pledges which are conditional on the action of others - in particular the provision of international climate finance.

Meanwhile, the European Union has a target of a 20 per cent emissions reduction but has stated it is prepared to go to a 30 per cent cut if others follow. Canada has stated that it will follow the United States whose 17 per cent emissions reduction pledge is dependent on legislation being passed.

In addition, the report underlines the importance of ensuring 'strict' rules regarding the accounting for Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) and the use of surplus emissions units are addressed. It finds that the rules governing these issues can have almost as big an impact as the headline pledges. If the rules are not set right, the pledges can be undermined.

Key Findings from the Report

Studies show that emissions levels of approximately 44 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent (range of 39 to 44) in 2020 would be consistent with a likely chance of limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius.

  • Under business-as-usual projections, global emissions could reach 56 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent (range of 54 to 60) in 2020;

  • If the lowest ambition pledges were implemented, in a 'lenient' fashion, emissions could be slightly lower at 53 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent (range of 52 to 57), leaving a significant gap of 9 gigatonnes;

However, a set of policy options are available in the negotiations that could reduce the gap substantially:

  • Moving to higher ambition, conditional pledges;

  • Adopting rules that avoid a net increase in emissions from 'lenient' LULUCF accounting and the use of surplus emissions units;

  • Avoiding the impact of factors such as the 'double counting' of offsets will also be important to limit the size of the gap;

  • If all of the above policy options were to be taken, emissions in 2020 could be as low as 49 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent, reducing the size of the gap from business-as-usual by almost 60 per cent - down to 5 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent;

  • The studies show that it is feasible to bridge the remaining gap through more ambitious domestic actions, some of which could be supported by international climate finance;

  • With or without a gap, the assessment clearly shows that steep emissions reduction rates are needed post-2020 in order to keep our chances of limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius;

  • In order to meet a 1.5 degree Celsius target, emissions post-2020 will have to fall even faster - by perhaps 4 to 5 per cent annually- and become negative around 2050.

"This unprecedented partnership of climate modelers makes one clear and unequivocal point - keeping climate change within manageable limits is do-able. But the window for cost effective action is narrowing with every year of delay. Cancun represents the next opportunity to close the gaps and keep that window open as the world works towards a new international treaty," said Mr. Steiner.

Notes to Editors

A Summary of the Emissions Gap report will be available on www.unep.org

Additional quotations

Paula Lehtomäki, Finland's Minister of the Environment said: "This report confirms the findings we have heard from most individual scientific studies throughout this year - implementation of Copenhagen pledges is crucial, but not enough to reach our common goal. In Cancun we should therefore put our differences aside and start working in order to make progress in the negotiations. An ideal outcome should include anchoring the Copenhagen pledges and a Decision on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, REDD+."

"The UNEP report shows that despite some progress the world still needs to go further and faster in cutting emissions - and that includes the EU which must accept a more ambitious goal, of a 30% cut in emissions by 2020. Taking action now isn't only right for our climate, but it'll be cheaper in the long run than having to catch up by doing more after 2020."

Connie Hedegaard, European Commissioner for Climate Action said: "This report shows that the Copenhagen Accord, if fully implemented, means substantial action. However, we need to be more ambitious if we want to keep global warming under the important threshold of 2°C. First, in Cancun we must anchor the Copenhagen pledges in the United Nations negotiations, then we have a basis to build upon. At the same time, we need to address remaining weaknesses (LULUCF accounting rules and AAU surplus) which could seriously undermine the integrity of post-2012 climate action. In Copenhagen leaders said, A: We must stay below the 2*C. They also said, B: We share a co-responsibility. Now UNEP shows how crucial it is that countries follow up with C: Delivering the necessary targets."

Chris Huhne, UK Energy and Climate Change Secretary said: "The UNEP report shows that despite some progress the world still needs to go further and faster in cutting emissions ? and that includes the EU which must accept a more ambitious goal, of a 30% cut in emissions by 2020. Taking action now isn't only right for our climate, but it'll be cheaper in the long run than having to catch up by doing more after 2020. At Cancun, the UK's pushing to include the Copenhagen mitigation pledges in the formal UN process so they can be properly considered."

Niklas Höhne, Director, Energy and Climate Policy at Ecofys in Germany and one of the lead authors of the Emissions Gap Report, said: "The report provides clarity on the options that countries have in Cancun to reach an agreement that is compatible with limiting temperature increase to 2°C or 1.5°C. Countries can clarify in Cancun the status of their emission reduction proposals. The ambiguity and conditionality of some of the proposals made the assessment difficult."

Joeri Rogelj, researcher at the ETH Zurich and one of the lead authors of the Emissions Gap Report, said: "The message resounding from this report is unambiguous and clear: the current level of ambition for 2020 is not consistent with limiting global temperature increase to below 2°C with a high probability. Despite the many uncertainties and differing interpretations of how greenhouse gas mitigation policies will be implemented in the future, current science shows that countries should strengthen their national mitigation ambitions for 2020, and, by doing so, laying the groundwork for a steep decrease in emission after 2020."

Jules Kortenhorst, CEO of the European Climate Foundation, said: "This report, co-authored by the world's leading scientists on this topic, gives two resounding messages. First, that the negotiations matter. The rules that countries negotiate to govern these pledges matters almost as much as the headline numbers themselves. The pledges can be undermined by lenient accounting rules. Second, that there is still more to do. Like the recent IEA report and others, it is clear that all countries need to increase their ambition if we are to safeguard our planet's health for our children."

Kelly Levin, Senior Research Associate at the World Resources Institute, Washington DC and one of the lead authors of the Emissions Gap Report, said: "As this report shows, we are clearly on a dangerous emissions pathway and need more aggressive action to slow down the Earth's rising temperatures," said Kelly Levin, a senior associate at the World Resources Institute, and a contributor to the report. "Negotiators need to come to Cancun armed with a commitment to robust accounting rules and to move ahead with ambitious emission reduction pledges to close the gap between what's needed and where we're currently headed."

Acknowledgements

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) would like to thank the Steering Committee, all the lead and contributing authors, and the Secretariat for their contribution to the development of this report. Organisations are given below for identification purposes only.

Steering Committee Members: Joseph Alcamo, Chair (UNEP), Kilaparti Ramakrishna (UNEP), Bert Metz (European Climate Foundation), Suzana Kahn Ribeiro (COPPE, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro), Anand Patwardhan (Indian Institute of Technology Bombay), Adrian Fernandez (Instituto Nacional de Ecologia, Mexico) and Julia Martinez (Instituto Nacional de Ecologia, Mexico).

Lead Authors: Michel den Elzen (PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency), William Hare (Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research), Niklas Höhne (Ecofys), Kelly Levin (World Resources Institute), Jason Lowe (Met Office, Hadley Center), Keywan Riahi (International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis), Joeri Rogelj (ETH Zurich), Elizabeth Sawin (Climate Interactive), Chris Taylor (Grantham Research Institute, LSE), Detlef van Vuuren (PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency), Murray Ward (Global Climate Change Consultants).

Contributing Authors: Valentina Bosetti (Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei), Claudine Chen (Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research), Rob Dellink (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development),, Jørgen Fenhann (UNEP Risø), Claudio Gesteira (COPPE, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro), Tatsuya Hanaoka (National Institute for Environmental Studies), Mikiko Kainuma (National Institute for Environmental Studies), Jiang Kejun (Energy Research Institute), Emanuele Massetti (Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei), Ben Matthews (UCLouvain, Centre for Earth and Climate Research), Caspar Olausson (Danish Energy Agency), Brian O'Neill (National Center for Atmospheric Research), Nicola Ranger (Grantham Research Institute, LSE), Fabian Wagner (International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis), Zhao Xiusheng (Tsinghua University).

Secretariat: Ramzi Elias, Project Manager (European Climate Foundation), Maria Blazogiannaki (European Climate Foundation), Harsha Dave (UNEP), Ernest Imbamba (UNEP),

For More Information Please Contact:

Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson/Head of Media, on Tel: +254 733 632755 or +41 79 596 5737, E-mail: nick.nuttall@unep.org

For Regional Launches, Please Contact:

Helsinki: Katja Huumo, Communications Officer, Ministry of the Environment, Finland, Tel. + 358 50 567 5381, E-mail: katja.huumo@ymparisto.fi

London: Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson/Head of Media, on Tel: +254 733 632755 or +41 79 596 5737, E-mail: nick.nuttall@unep.org

Mexico City: José Orozco, INE Press Coordinator, Tel. +52 55 5424 6434, E-mail: jorozco@ine.gob.mx

or

Jan Kappen, UNEP Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean, Tel. +507 305-3131, E-mail: jan.kappen@unep.org

Nairobi: Bryan Coll, UNEP/Nairobi, Tel: +254 20 762 3088, Mobile: +254 711 203148, E-mail: bryan.coll@unep.org

Washington DC: Andrea DiPaola, Information Assistant, UNEP Regional Office for North America, Tel: +1 202 621-5037, Mobile: +1 202 615-6488, E-mail: andrea.dipaola@unep.org

or

Michael Oko, Director, Media Relations, WRI, Tel. +1 202 729-7684; Mobile: +1 202 246-9269, E-mail: moko@wri.org

 
In order to have a ‘likely’ chance of pegging global warming to 2 degrees Celsius or below, global emissions will need to have peaked within the next 10 years


 

 

Further Resources

Emissions Gap Report

UNEP and Climate Change

UN Climate Change Conference Cancun

Greening the Blue: a more sustainable UN

 

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