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Climate change: What the Emissions Gap Report 2020 tells us

The annual UNEP report on emission says the “the world is still heading for a temperature rise in excess of 3°C this century”

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) December 9, 2020, released its annual Emissions Gap Report 2020. The much-awaited report is unequivocal that there is no ebb to human-induced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and the year 2020 would be one of the warmest years on record.

“The year 2020 is on course to be one of the warmest on record, while wildfires, storms and droughts continue to wreak havoc,” Inger Andersen, UNEP’s executive director said.

The annual report from UNEP measures “the gap between anticipated emissions and levels consistent with the Paris Agreement goals of limiting global warming this century to well below 2°C and pursuing 1.5°C”.


Read more: Emission Gap Report 2019: Climate Emergency CoP 25: A gap that keeps growing


Below are the findings from the Emission Gap Report 2020 on key aspects:

1. Record high GHG emissions: “Global GHG emissions continued to grow for the third consecutive year in 2019, reaching a record high of 52.4 Gigatonne carbon equivalent (GtCO2e) (range: ±5.2) without land-use change (LUC) emissions and 59.1 GtCO2e (range: ±5.9) when including LUC.”

2. Record carbon emission: “Fossil carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions (from fossil fuels and carbonates) dominate total GHG emissions including LUC (65 per cent) and consequently the growth in GHG emissions. Preliminary data suggest that fossil CO2 emissions reached a record 38.0 GtCO2 (range: ±1.9) in 2019.”

3. Forest fires increasing GHG emissions: “Since 2010, GHG emissions without LUC have grown at 1.3 per cent per year on average, with preliminary data suggesting a 1.1 per cent increase in 2019. When including the more uncertain and variable LUC emissions, global GHG emissions have grown 1.4 per cent per year since 2010 on average, with a more rapid increase of 2.6 per cent in 2019 due to a large increase in vegetation forest fires. LUC emissions account for around 11 per cent of the global total, with the bulk of the emissions occurring in relatively few countries.”


Read more: Emission Gap Report 2018: Countries must make serious emission cuts, reiterates UN report


4. G20 countries account for bulk of emissions: Over the last decade, the top four emitters (China, the United States of America, EU27+UK and India) have contributed to 55 per cent of the total GHG emissions without LUC. The top seven emitters (including the Russian Federation, Japan and international transport) have contributed to 65 per cent, with G20 members accounting for 78 per cent. The ranking of countries changes dramatically when considering per capita emissions.

5. Is the GHG emission rate slowing? “There is some indication that the growth in global GHG emissions is slowing. However, GHG emissions are declining in Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) economies and increasing in non-OECD economies. Many OECD economies have had a peak in GHG emissions, with efficiency improvements and growth in low-carbon energy sources more than offsetting the growth in economic activity. Despite improving energy efficiency and increasing low-carbon sources, emissions continue to rise in countries with strong growth in energy use to meet development needs.”


Read more: Emission Gap Report 2017: Commitments under Paris deal one-third of what is needed: UN Emission Gap Report 2017


6. On consumption-based emissions: “There is a general tendency that rich countries have higher consumption-based emissions (emissions allocated to the country where goods are purchased and consumed, rather than where they are produced) than territorial-based emissions, as they typically have cleaner production, relatively more services and more imports of primary and secondary products. In the 2000s, the gap between consumption and production was growing in rich countries but stabilised following the 2007–2008 global financial crisis. Even though rich countries have had higher consumption-based emissions than territorial-based emissions over the last decade, both emission types have declined at similar rates.”


Read more: Emission Gap Report 2016: World will witness 2.9 to 3.4°C temperature rise even if Paris deal fully implemented


7. Did the COVID-19 pandemic impact the emission level? “CO2 emissions could decrease by about 7 per cent in 2020 (range: 2–12 per cent) compared with 2019 emission levels due to COVID-19, with a smaller drop expected in GHG emissions as non-CO2 is likely to be less affected. However, atmospheric concentrations of GHGs continue to rise.”

8. Which sector reported the lowest dip in emission due to pandemic? “The reduction in GHG emissions in 2020 due to COVID-19 is likely to be significantly larger than the 1.2 per cent reduction during the global financial crisis in the late 2000s. Studies indicate that the biggest changes have occurred in transport, as COVID-19 restrictions were targeted to limit mobility, though reductions have also occurred in other sectors.”


Read more: Emission Gap Report 2015: UNEP releases adaptation gap report 2015


9. What about other GHGs (excluding carbon dioxide) level? “Although CO2 emissions will decrease in 2020, the resulting atmospheric concentrations of major GHGs (CO2, methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O)) continued to increase in both 2019 and 2020. Sustained reductions in emissions to reach net zero CO2 are required to stabilise global warming, while achieving net-zero GHG emissions will result in a peak then decline in global warming.”

10. Are countries on track to attain net zero level? “At the time of completing this report, 126 countries covering 51 per cent of global GHG emissions have net-zero goals that are formally adopted, announced or under consideration. If the United States of America adopts a net-zero GHG target by 2050, as suggested in the Biden-Harris climate plan, the share would increase to 63 per cent.”

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