With the world facing a “code red for humanity,” time is running out for governments to keep their climate promises

Week of 25 October 2021

With the world facing a “code red for humanity,” time is running out for governments to keep their climate promises

Our key takeaway: In the run-up to COP26 next week, countries’ NDCs (nationally determined contributions) to global warming are being put in the spotlight … and coming up short. UNEP sounds the alarm bell for immediate, meaningful action to curb climate change.

The 12th annual edition of the UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Emissions Gap Report—which every year “provides an overview of the difference between where greenhouse emissions are predicted to be in 2030 and where they should be to avert the worst impacts of climate change”—is out now in advance of COP26. Here are three of our top takeaways from this comprehensive report:

    • COVID-19 fiscal recovery and spending is not being used to build (the climate) back better: Despite early reports of “unprecedented” CO2 declines in the early stages of the pandemic (a 5.4% drop in 2020), UNEP expects a “strong rebound in emissions” this year, growing by up to 4.8% and just a little below the record levels of CO2 recorded in 2019. In this environment, international organisations, NGOs and companies have been calling for a socioeconomic pandemic response that simultaneously accounts for rising GHG emissions. According to UNEP, the pandemic has “precipitated an enormous increase in public expenditure, in the form of: (i) short-term rescue spending, to keep businesses and people alive; (ii) longer-term recovery investment, to reinvigorate the economy; and (iii) reinforcement spending, to embed new economic trajectories into long-term development plans.” However, only 17-19% of the total global expenditures on pandemic response (US$390–440 billion) is “likely to reduce GHG emissions.” What’s more, the most vulnerable countries and their people are being left behind, as “[l]ess diversified economies, rising debt as a percentage of GDP, and corresponding limited fiscal space have constrained the ability of emerging economies and low-income countries to mobilize resources.”
    • Don’t forget about methane: UNEP reports that methane has a big role to play in global warming, as the “second-most important GHG in terms of current anthropogenic” change. “Reduction of methane emissions from the fossil fuel, waste and agriculture sectors can contribute significantly to closing the emissions gap and reduce warming in the short term. … Available net-negative or low-cost technical mitigation measures alone could reduce anthropogenic methane emissions by approximately 20 per cent by 2030, whereas all targeted measures could reduce emissions by about one third. Additional measures, such as switching from natural gas to renewables, dietary changes and food waste reduction could add 15 per cent to the 2030 mitigation potential.”
    • Carbon markets have a meaningful role to play, but only if the right rules are in place: Carbon markets have been on the global stage for years, but with limited meaningful uptake beyond a few jurisdictions. According to UNEP, “[c]arbon markets can deliver real emissions abatement and drive ambition, but only when rules are clearly defined, designed to ensure that transactions reflect actual reductions in emissions, and supported by arrangements to track progress and provide transparency.” This means that NDCs should ensure three elements are in place: comprehensive coverage of all GHG emissions, mitigation goals that are “clearly quantifiable” (and thus market-friendly), and robust, shared accounting procedures. However, most governments’ plans are “currently very heterogeneous,” posing challenges for creating the global carbon market system that is needed to ensure a fair playing field for all involved.

For more, see UN Environment Programme (UNEP), The Emissions Gap Report 2021: The Heat Is On (October 2021)