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Green pandemic recovery essential to close climate action gap – UN report

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.

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.

“The year 2020 is on course to be one of the warmest on record, while wildfires, storms and droughts continue to wreak havoc,” said Inger Andersen, UNEP’s Executive Director. “However, 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.”

  • The report finds that, despite a brief dip in 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 – far beyond the Paris Agreement goals of limiting global warming to well below 2°C and pursuing 1.5°C.
  • However, a low-carbon pandemic recovery could cut 25 per cent off the greenhouse emissions expected in 2030, based on policies in place before COVID-19. Such a recovery would far outstrip savings foreseen with the implementation of unconditional Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Agreement, and put the world close to the 2°C pathway.
  • The report also analyses low-carbon recovery measures so far, summarizes the scale of new net-zero emissions pledges by nations and looks at the potential of the lifestyle, aviation and shipping sectors to bridge the gap

By combining a green pandemic recovery with swift moves to include new net-zero commitments in updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement, and following up with rapid, stronger action, governments could still attain the more-ambitious 1.5°C goal.

The report also finds that the growing number of countries committing to net-zero emissions goals by mid-century is a “significant and encouraging development”. At the time of report completion, 126 countries covering 51 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions had adopted, announced or were considering net-zero goals.

Reforming consumption behaviour critical

Each year the report also looks at the potential of specific sectors. In 2020, it considers consumer behaviour and the shipping and aviation sectors.

The shipping and aviation sectors, which account for 5 per cent of global emissions, also require attention. Improvements in technology and operations can increase fuel efficiency, but projected increases in demand mean this will not result in decarbonisation and absolute reductions of CO2. Both sectors need to combine energy efficiency with a rapid transition away from fossil fuel, the report finds.

  • The report finds that stronger climate action must include changes in consumption behaviour by the private sector and individuals. Around two-thirds of global emissions are linked to private households, when using consumption-based accounting.
  • The wealthy bear greatest responsibility: the emissions of the richest one per cent of the global population account for more than twice the combined share of the poorest 50 per cent. This group will need to reduce its footprint by a factor of 30 to stay in line with the Paris Agreement targets.

Possible actions to support and enable lower carbon consumption include replacing domestic short haul flights with rail, incentives and infrastructure to enable cycling and car-sharing, improving the energy efficiency of housing and policies to reduce food waste.

Press conference to launch the Emissions Gap Report 2020

Emissions Gap Report 2020 Interactive

Every year, the Emissions Gap Report signals the difference between where greenhouse emissions are predicted to be in 2030 and where they should be to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

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