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New U.N. climate report offers ‘bleak’ emissions forecast

Originally published by E&E News

Global emissions are expected to keep climbing despite promises from almost 200 nations to address climate change, propelling temperatures upward and threatening to shatter the threshold of 2°C that scientists say would invite dramatic changes to ecology and the economy.

The 10th Emissions Gap Report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), released today, warned that there's "no sign" greenhouse gases will hit their zenith anytime soon. It arrived a day after the World Meteorological Organization revealed record-high concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

"The summary findings are bleak," the UNEP report said. "Countries collectively failed to stop the growth in global [greenhouse gas] emissions, meaning that deeper and faster cuts are now required."

The World Meteorological Organization, meanwhile, said average CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere rose to 407.8 parts per million in 2018, surpassing its estimate in 2017 of 405.5 ppm.

UNEP's emissions gap survey, launched from Geneva, forecasts much higher greenhouse gas concentrations to come.

In the report, UNEP applauds heightened public pressure on governments to address climate change, yet laments that it's not nearly enough. The world's emissions have been increasing by about 1.5% per year for the past decade, it notes. That would lead to temperature increases of nearly 4°C by 2100, "bringing wide-ranging and destructive climate impacts."

The anticipated emissions gap in 2030, the difference between what will be released into the atmosphere versus levels consistent with reining in global warming is huge, UNEP warns.

Measured in gigatons of CO2 equivalent (GtCO2e), the report's authors say emissions levels hit 55.3 GtCO2e in 2018. By 2030, it will rise to double the volumes consistent with limiting temperature increases to 1.5°C, based on about 195 nationally determined contributions (NDCs) submitted to the Paris Agreement by nations around the world.

"In 2030, annual emissions need to be 15 GtCO2e lower than current unconditional NDCs imply for the 2°C goal," says the report, or 25% below 2018 total emissions. To stop temperatures from rising more than 1.5°C, a goal preferred by most climate activists and small island developing states, the world needs to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 32 GtCO2e by 2030, the UNEP authors say. That's 55% lower than 2018 emissions levels.

The report reached another surprising conclusion: China's per capita emissions are rising to levels experienced by developed economies.

"It is evident that China now has per capita emissions in the same range as the European Union (EU) and is almost at a similar level to Japan," it states.

Data presented in an executive summary shows that China is still the world's largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions, with annual emissions now almost double those shown for the United States, the second greatest source. The E.U., India and Russia are also top global emitters. On a per capita basis, however, the U.S. is still the world leader.

But UNEP figures show that China's per capita emissions began to slightly exceed those for the E.U. beginning around 2014–15, with the gap widening further this year. The trend line suggests China's per capita emissions levels are about to catch up to Japan's.

The International Energy Agency thinks China's coal consumption is close to peaking but the country's emissions are poised to continue rising based on other sources. It's the same story for the world as a whole, UNEP argues.

"There is no sign of GHG emissions peaking in the next few years," said the UNEP report. "Every year of postponed peaking means that deeper and faster cuts will be required."

UNEP gave a nod to dozens of net zero emissions targets announced by governments at a recent Climate Action Summit held at U.N. headquarters in New York. But it notes that so far only a handful of detailed plans to achieve those goals have been submitted to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

UNEP produced the report with the help of government agencies of Finland, Norway, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden. The ClimateWorks Foundation also contributed. It follows the release of a similar report last week that focused on projected fossil fuels production (Climatewire, 20 November).

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from E&E News. Copyright 2019. E&E provides essential news for energy and environment professionals at www.eenews.net