Global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions rose again during 2017 after a three-year hiatus, highlighting the imperative for countries to deliver on the historic Paris Agreement to keep global warming to below 2 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels, a new report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) said.
The 'Emissions Gap Report' comes just days before the key UN climate change conference known as COP 24 in Katowice in Poland, which starts on Sunday and will last for two weeks, with UNEP urging nations to triple their efforts to curb harmful emissions. The key objective of the meeting will be to adopt an implementation plan for the 2015 Paris Agreement.
The UNEP report comes hot on the heels of the watershed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on global warming, released in October, which cautioned that emissions had to stop rising now, in order to keep temperature increases below 1.5 degrees Celsius, and reduce the risks for the well-being of the planet and its people.
"If the IPCC report represented a global fire alarm, this report is the arson investigation," said UNEP Deputy Executive Director Joyce Msuya.
"The science is clear; for all the ambitious climate action we've seen governments need to move faster and with greater urgency. We're feeding this fire while the means to extinguish it are within reach," she said.
Heat-trapping CO2 gas in the atmosphere is largely responsible for rising global temperatures, according to the overwhelming body of scientific evidence. UNEP's 2018 Global Emissions Report shows global emissions have reached historic levels.
Total annual greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions, including from land-use change, reached a record high of 53.5 gigatons in 2017, an increase of 0.7 compared with 2016.
"In contrast, global GHG emissions in 2030 need to be approximately 25 per cent and 55 per cent lower than in 2017 to put the world on a least-cost pathway to limiting global warming to 2 degrees and 1.5 degrees respectively," said the report.
The report notes that there is no sign of reversal of this trend and that only 57 countries (representing 60 per cent of global emissions) are on track to bridge their "emissions gap" meaning the gap between where we are likely to be and where we need to be.
Increased emissions and lagging action means the gap published in this year's report is larger than ever.
UNEP stressed that while "surging momentum from the private sector" and "untapped potential from innovation and green-financing" offer "pathways" to bridge the emissions gap globally, the "technical feasibility" of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees "is dwindling".
The authors of the report note that nations would need to triple their efforts on climate action without further delay, in order to meet the 2 degree-rise limit by mid-century. To meet the 1.5 degree limit, they would have to quintuple their efforts.
A continuation of current trends will likely result in global warming of around 3 degrees by the end of the century, with continued temperature rises after that, according to the report findings.
"The kind of drastic, large-scale action we urgently need has yet to been seen," said UNEP.
The report offers concrete ways for governments to bridge their emissions gap, including through fiscal policy, innovative technology, non-state and subnational action, and more. This ninth UNEP emissions report has been prepared by an international team of leading scientists, assessing all available information.
"When governments embrace fiscal policy measures to subsidise low-emission alternatives and tax fossil fuels, they can stimulate the right investments in the energy sector and significantly reduce carbon emissions," UNEP Chief Scientist Jian Liu said.
"Thankfully, the potential of using fiscal policy as an incentive is increasingly recognised," said Liu, referring to the 51 initiatives already in place or planned across the world to charge for carbon emissions (called "carbon pricing").
"If all fossil fuel subsidies were phased out, global carbon emissions could be reduced by up to 10 per cent by 2030," he added, explaining that "setting the right carbon price is also essential. At USD 70 per ton of CO2, emission reductions of up to 40 per cent are possible in some countries".
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