UN report warns of 'catastrophic climate gap'

The United Nations Environment Programme has released its Emissions Gap Report for 2017, warning of a “catastrophic climate gap” between the commitments that countries have made under the Paris Climate Agreement and the emissions reductions required to avoid the worst consequences of global warming.

According to the report, current pledges from governments represent only about half of what would be required to avoid a 2˚C temperature rise, and just one third of what’s required to limit warming to 1.5˚C.

The report presents an assessment of current national mitigation efforts and the ambitions countries have presented in their Nationally Determined Contributions, which form the foundation of the Paris Agreement.

Australia is one of 10 countries (including the EU) that are likely to require further action in order to meet their current Nationally Determined Contributions.

The report has been prepared by an international team of leading scientists, assessing all available information. The governments of countries mentioned specifically in the report have been invited to comment on the specific assessment findings; independent experts have also been invited to review the different chapters.

The report includes:

  • an examination of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as an additional way to mitigate climate change, over and above conventional abatement strategies;

  • an analysis of global carbon dioxide emissions from energy and industry;

  • opportunities offered by limiting emissions of the so-called short-lived climate pollutants

  • global developments in the coal sector, and the options and barriers for a gradual coal phase-out. The assessment shows that between 80 and 90 percent of coal reserves worldwide will need to remain in the ground, if climate targets are to be reached. This compares with approximately 35 percent for oil reserves and 50 percent for gas reserves.

The head of the UN-REDD Programme Secretariat, Mario Boccucci, said the evidence shows that forests can be a central part of the solution to climate change

More than 6.3 gigatons (billion tons) of carbon dioxide emission reductions have already been reported over the past six years from forests in Brazil, Ecuador, Malaysia and Colombia alone under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), according to the UNFCCC Lima Hub. This is equivalent to more than the annual emissions of the United States.

“IPCC [International Panel on Climate Change] numbers suggest that if deforestation ended today and degraded forests were allowed to recover, tropical forests alone could reduce current annual global emissions by 24 to 30 per cent,” says the Center for Global Development in its report Why Forests, Why Now?

“In other words, tropical forests hold the potential to constitute somewhere between one quarter and one third of the near-term solution to climate change.”

The UN Emissions Gap Report 2017 is available here.

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