UNEP: Tools in Hand to Bridge the Climate Emissions Gap

LONDON, UK, November 23, 2011 (ENS) – Cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 enough to keep a global temperature rise safely below two degrees Celsius is technologically and economically possible if governments act right now, says a new study released today by the UN Environment Programme, UNEP.

“The window for addressing climate change is rapidly narrowing but equally the options for cost effective action have never been more abundant,” states the report, “Bridging the Emissions Gap,” researched and written by 55 scientists and experts from 28 scientific groups across 15 countries.

Solar power tower in Sevilla, Spain (Photo courtesy Abengoa Solar)

Issued days ahead of the United Nations climate negotiations in Durban, South Africa, the report shows that the world already has the solutions to avert damaging climate change.

Accelerated uptake of renewable energy, fuel switching and energy efficiency improvements can deliver a large slice of the necessary emissions cuts, along with increased use of public transport and more fuel efficient vehicles, as well as improvements in agriculture and waste management, the report advises.

The pledges countries have made to cut emissions will help in getting below a business-as-usual level in 2020, but the report finds they are not adequate to reduce emissions to a level consistent with the two degrees Celsius target, and therefore lead to a gap.

If countries adopt their higher-ambition pledges and are also subject to “strict” accounting rules, the report projects that the target can be met.

“The annual UNEP Gap Report is a vital contribution to the global effort to address dangerous climate change,” said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. “It shows that we have much to do, both in terms of ambition and policy, but it also shows that the gap can still be closed if we act now. This is a message of hope and an important call to action.”

The report concludes that policymakers could narrow or close the emissions gap in 2020 by:

  • Agreeing to implement their more ambitious emissions reduction pledges with stricter rules for complying with these pledges
  • Deciding to target their energy systems, using more non-fossil fuel and renewable energy sources, and improving energy efficiency
  • Putting in place strong, long-term, sector-specific policies to achieve the full emissions potential of the different economic sectors

UNEP Executive Secretary Achim Steiner said in his forward to the report, “There is abundant evidence that emission reductions of between 14 to 20 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent are possible by 2020 and without any significant technical or financial breakthroughs needed.”

The report cites aviation and shipping as a special but important case, as currently these international emissions fall outside the Kyoto Protocol, the greenhouse gas emission reduction treaty.

Together they account for about five percent of C02 emissions and could account for up to 2.5 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) annually, by 2020.

“Options for reducing emissions from both sectors include improving fuel efficiency and using low-carbon fuels. For the shipping sector, another promising and simple option is to reduce ship speeds,” says the report.

Coal-burning power plant, Jiangsu, China (Photo courtesy China Datang Corp.)

The report presents policymakers with clear ideas on how to bridge the emissions gap by 2020 which, as a result of improved modeling from UNEP’s first assessment last year, is now estimated, under the most optimistic scenarios, to be six gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent rather than five, as indicated last year.

But if the commitments and pledges of developed countries are not met, including financing for climate mitigation and adaptation in developing countries of $100 billion a year by 2020, and the intentions of developing countries are not fully realized, the report outlines more pessimistic scenarios.

The gap then, by 2020, could be 11 GtCO2e. Under business-as-usual conditions, it could even be 12 GtCO2e, the report warns.

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, stressed the need for action. “This study, again, reminds us that efforts to address climate change are currently still insufficient,” she said. “But it also shows that it is possible for governments to bridge the gap between what they have promised and what needs to be done to stay below a two degrees Celsius average global temperature rise.”

“Time is short, so we need to optimize the tools at hand,” said Figueres, the UN’s top climate negotiator.

Figueres outlined the goals for the climate talks in Durban, which open November 28 and continue through December 9.

“In Durban, governments need to resolve the immediate future of the Kyoto Protocol,” she said, “define the longer path towards a global, binding climate agreement, launch the agreed institutional network to support developing countries in their response to the climate challenge, and set out a path to deliver the long-term funding that will pay for that.”

Wind farm in the Netherlands. (Photo courtesy NUON)

Keeping average global temperature rise below two degrees Celsius has become the focus of international efforts, agreed by governments first in Copenhagen in 2009, and reaffirmed in Cancun last year.

In Copenhagen, countries were encouraged to submit pledges for reducing greenhouse gas emissions for the year 2020 as part of the Copenhagen Accord. During the following year, 42 industrialized countries and 44 developing countries submitted pledges.

At the Cancun climate conference, governments formally recognized country pledges and decided “to hold the increase in global average temperature below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.”

They also left open the option for “strengthening the long-term global goal on the basis of best available scientific knowledge including in relation to a global average temperature rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius.”

“This report should be a big reality check for negotiators heading into the Durban talks,” said Samantha Smith, head of the Global Climate and Energy Initiative for the global conservation organization WWF.

“It very clearly shows the world is heading for very dangerous levels of climate change if we don’t take decisive action right now.”

“Realistically, nobody is expecting governments to close this gap fully in Durban,” Smith said. “But at the very least they must avoid making the gap even bigger by agreeing to weak rules on carbon accounting. We are already in a deep hole, and it’s time to stop digging.”

“The good news is that UNEP confirms that we still can get on the right path, if we move quickly to stop deforestation and shift to renewable energy,” said Smith. “The gap is not technical or economic – it is a gap in political will and leadership.”

Click here to download the report, “Bridging the Emissions Gap.”

The first report in the series, “The Emissions Gap Report,” is found here.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2011. All rights reserved.