A green pandemic recovery could bring the world closer to meeting the 2°C goal of the Paris Agreement on climate change by cutting up to 25% of the predicted 2030 greenhouse gas emissions, a new UN Environment Program (UNEP) report finds on Wednesday.
According to UNEP's annual Emissions Gap Report 2020, despite a dip in 2020 carbon dioxide emissions caused by COVID-19, the world is still heading for a temperature rise above 3°C this century.
"However, if governments invest in climate action as part of pandemic recovery and solidify emerging net-zero commitments with strengthened pledges at the next climate meeting taking place in Glasgow in November 2021, they can bring emissions to levels broadly consistent with the 2°C goal," the report said.
Governments could still attain the more ambitious 1.5°C goal by combining a green pandemic recovery with swift moves to include new net-zero commitments in updated nationally determined contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement and following up with rapid and stronger action.
It has been five years since governments ratified the Paris Agreement in December 2015.
"The year 2020 is on course to be one of the warmest on record, while wildfires, storms and droughts continue to wreak havoc. However, the report shows that a green pandemic recovery can take a huge slice out of greenhouse gas emissions and help slow climate change," Inger Andersen, UNEP’s executive director was quoted as saying. "I urge governments to back a green recovery in the next stage of COVID-19 fiscal interventions and raise significantly their climate ambitions in 2021."
- Carbon emissions projected to drop by 7% this year
According to the report, in 2019 total greenhouse gas emissions including land-use change reached a new high of 59.1 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent (GtCO2e)
UNEP's report revealed that the global greenhouse gas emissions have grown by an average of 1.4% since 2020 but with a more rapid increase of 2.6% last year due to the spread of forest fires across the world.
With the reduction in travel, industrial activity and lower electricity generation this year due to the pandemic, carbon dioxide emissions are estimated to drop by 7% this year, the report said.
However, this fall is set to be temporary as it is expected not to occur from structural changes aimed at reducing emissions.
"This dip only translates to a 0.01°C reduction of global warming by 2050. However, a green recovery would put emissions in 2030 at 44 GtCO2e, instead of the predicted 59 GtCO2e – far outstripping emission reductions foreseen in unconditional NDCs, which leave the world on track for a 3.2°C temperature rise," the report finds.
The UNEP said such a green recovery would put emissions within the range that gives a 66% chance of holding temperatures to below 2°C, but would still be insufficient to achieve the 1.5°C goal.
- Growing number of countries commit to net-zero
According to the study, measures to prioritize a green fiscal recovery include direct support for zero-emissions technologies and infrastructure, reducing fossil fuel subsidies, ensuring no new coal plants, and promoting nature-based solutions including large-scale landscape restoration and reforestation.
The report reveals that action on a green fiscal recovery has been limited so far with around one-quarter of G20 members having dedicated shares of their spending, which accounts for 3% of GDP to low carbon measures.
"There nonetheless remains a significant opportunity for countries to implement green policies and programs. Governments must take this opportunity in the next stage of COVID-19 fiscal interventions," the report said, adding that the growing number of countries committing to net-zero emissions goals by mid-century is a significant and encouraging development.
At the time of completion of the report, 126 countries covering 51% of global greenhouse gas emissions had adopted, announced, or were considering net-zero goals.
"To remain feasible and credible, these commitments must be urgently translated into strong near-term policies and action and reflected in NDCs. The levels of ambition in the Paris Agreement still must be roughly tripled for the 2°C pathway and increased at least fivefold for the 1.5°C pathway," the report said, signaling to the shipping and aviation sectors that account for 5% of global emissions.
Both these sectors need to combine energy efficiency with a rapid transition away from fossil fuel, the report said.
- Wealthy bear the greatest responsibility
The report also finds that stronger climate action must include consumption behavior changes by the private sector and individuals as around two-thirds of global emissions are linked to private households.
According to the report, the emissions of the richest 1% of the global population account for more than twice the combined share of the poorest 50%.
"This group will need to reduce its footprint by a factor of 30 to stay in line with the Paris Agreement targets.
"Possible actions to support and enable lower carbon consumption include replacing domestic short-haul flights with rail, incentives and infrastructure to enable cycling and car-sharing, improving the energy efficiency of housing and policies to reduce food waste," the report said.
By Nuran Erkul Kaya