UNEP Emissions Gap Report 2018 Part 3 – UNEP tacitly admits climate mitigation is a failure

To those following the superficial political spin of climate policy, a UN organisation admitting that climate mitigation has failed may come as a surprise. Yet one does not have to go too deeply into the new UNEP Emissions Gap Report 2018 to see that this tacit admission is clearly the case. It is contained within the 3 major points in the Executive Summary.

By policy failure, I mean to achieve a global substantial reduction in GHG emissions in the near future, even if that reduction is not in line with either the 1.5°C or 2.0°C warming objective. On this measure, the UNEP is tacitly admitting failure it the summary.
The Executive Summary of the UNEP Emissions Gap Report 2018 starts on the pdf page 14 of 112, numbered page xiv.

Point 1 – Current commitments are inadequate

1. Current commitments expressed in the NDCs are inadequate to bridge the emissions gap in 2030. Technically, it is still possible to bridge the gap to ensure global warming stays well below 2°C and 1.5°C, but if NDC ambitions are not increased before 2030, exceeding the 1.5°C goal can no longer be avoided. Now more than ever, unprecedented and urgent action is required by all nations. The assessment of actions by the G20 countries indicates that this is yet to happen; in fact, global CO2 emissions increased in 2017 after three years of stagnation.

This is not a statement about a final push to get policy over the line, but a call for a complete change of direction. The tacit admission is that this is politically impossible. In the amplification it is admitted that in the G20 major economies – most of them developing countries – even the “NDC ambitions” for 2030 are not likely to be achieved. As I showed in the Part 2 post, 9 of the G20 will actually increase their emissions from 2015 to 2030 if the commitments are fully met, and the sum of the emissions increases will be greater than the emissions decreases. The exhortation for “unprecedented and urgent action” is not like Shakespeare’s Henry V rallying his men with a “once more unto the breach chaps and we will crack it” but more about like “Hey good fellows, if we are really going to breach the defenses we need to upgrade from the colorful fireworks to a few kegs of proper gunpowder, then make a few genuine sacrifices. I will be cheering you all the way from the rear“. This sentiment is contained in the following statement.

As the emissions gap assessment shows, this original level of ambition needs to be roughly tripled for the 2°C scenario and increased around fivefold for the 1.5°C scenario.

Point 2 – Emissions are increasing, not decreasing rapidly

2. Global greenhouse gas emissions show no signs of peaking. Global CO2 emissions from energy and industry increased in 2017, following a three-year period of stabilization. Total annual greenhouse gases emissions, including from land-use change, reached a record high of 53.5 GtCO2e in 2017, an increase of 0.7 GtCO2e compared with 2016. In contrast, global GHG emissions in 2030 need to be approximately 25 percent and 55 percent lower than in 2017 to put the world on a least-cost pathway to limiting global warming to 2°C and 1.5°C respectively.

In just 13 years from now global emissions need to be down by a quarter or more than a half to achieve the respective 2°C and 1.5°C targets. Emissions are still going up. Again, an admission that the progress in over two decades is small in relation to the steps needed to achieve anything like a desired outcome.

Point 3 – Scale of the gap in numbers

3. The gap in 2030 between emission levels under full implementation of conditional NDCs and those consistent with least-cost pathways to the 2°C target is 13 GtCO2e. If only the unconditional NDCs are implemented, the gap increases to 15 GtCO2e. The gap in the case of the 1.5°C target is 29 GtCO2e and 32 GtCO2e respectively. This gap has increased compared with 2017 as a result of the expanded and more diverse literature on 1.5°C and 2°C pathways prepared for the IPCC Special Report.

Some developing countries said they would change course conditional on massive amounts of funding. It is clear this will not be forthcoming. Fleshing out the 1.5°C target in the SR1.5 Report showed that it requires more onerous policies than previously thought. Each year UNEP produces a chart that nicely shows the scale of the problem. The 2018 version on page xviii is reproduced as figure 1.

Figure 1 : The emissions GAP in 2030 under the 1.5°C and 2°C scenarios, from the UNEP Emissions Gap Report 2018.

The widening gap between the 1.5°C and 2°C pathways and current projected commitments over the last five reports is shown in figure 2.

This widening gap is primarily a result of recalculations. Increased emissions in 2017 are secondary.


That nearly 200 nations would fail to agree to collectively and substantially reduce global emissions was obvious from the Rio Declaration in 1992. This exempted developing countries from any obligation to reduce their emissions. These developing countries now have at least four fifths of the global population and around two-thirds emissions. It was even more obvious from reading the Paris Agreement, where vague aspirations are evident. It is left to the reader to work out the implications of paragraphs like 4.1 and 4.4, which renders the UNFCCC impotent in reducing emissions. The latest UNEP Emissions Gap Report presents the magnitude of the mitigation policy failure and very clear statements about that failure.

Kevin Marshall

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