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Climate Emissions Off-Track for 2°C Goal, But Still Possible with Fast, Focused, Firm Action


International Cooperative Initiatives Are Key Gap-Closing Strategy

Washington DC, November 5, 2013 – The gap continues to grow between emissions pledges that countries have made and the emissions levels needed by 2020 to keep global temperature rise below 2° (or 1.5°) C by 2100.

But closing the gap is still possible according to the UNEP Emissions Gap Report released today, ahead of the UN climate change negotiations in Warsaw next week. Closing the gap requires fast, focused, and firm international and nation action including though “international cooperative initiatives” (ICIs).

According to the report, developed by 44 scientific groups in 17 countries, even if nations meet their current climate pledges, the gap is likely to be 8 to 12 billion tones of CO2 equivalent (GtCO2-eq) per year.

The report calculates that as much as 20 GtCO2-eq per year could be reduced at a marginal cost of $50-100 UDS per tonne. An additional 1-2 GtCO2-eq per year could be gained by applying strict national emission accounting rules, and implementing the maximum reductions already pledged, without conditions, could gain another 2-3 GtCO2-eq per year.

First published in 2009, the annual UNEP Emissions Gap Report compares the gap between projected greenhouse gas emissions growth based on national emissions reductions pledges, and emissions levels that climate models tell us we need to meet to maintain global temperatures below 2°C (or 1.5° C) by the end of the century.

In addition to national-level action, this year is the first time the report looked at possible mitigation from ICIs, such as the Montreal Protocol and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants. These ICIs have the potential to not only support existing pledges, but go beyond them, for example ICIs could deliver as much as 2 GtCO2-eq emissions reductions globally through actions to improve energy efficiency.

“Enlisting ICIs to support further international and national climate action is a brilliant strategy, that can show the world that fast climate mitigation is achievable,” said Durwood Zaelke, President of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development, and a contributing author of the GAP report. “Actions such as addressing HFCs under the Montreal Protocol, will help build the momentum, ambition, and urgent optimism that we need to create a strong climate treaty by 2015. With the 19th annual UN climate negotiations opening next week in Warsaw, we need all the optimism that we can get,” he added.

“Addressing HFCs under the Montreal Protocol is the biggest, fastest, and possibly cheapest mitigation option that we have available to use today,” added Zaelke. “It could prevent as much as two billion tones of CO2 equivalent emissions by 2020, and 100 billion by 2050. This is a significant part of the 2020 emission gap.”

Looking specifically at thirteen major emitting countries, the UNEP GAP report found that five: Australia, China, the EU, India, and Russia, are on track to meet their pledges, another five: Mexico, Canada, Japan, South Korea, and the U.S., could meet their pledges with some additional effort, and not enough information was available to track emissions in Brazil, Indonesia, and South Africa. The report notes, however, that a number of countries such as the U.S., Mexico, and South Korea have implemented new climate policies that could bring them on track by 2020. The report cautioned that meeting existing country pledges would not close the gap, and if countries do not follow through with current national policies, the 2020 gap could be even larger.

“Addressing climate change will not come without cost,” said Zaelke. “But it will not be as costly as the human and economic damages we will suffer by not taking action.”

IGSD’s Primer on Short-Lived Climate Pollutants is here.

IGSD’s Primer on HFCs is here.