By Sharon Atieno

Despite countries committing to update their climate pledges to deliver greater emissions cuts during the twenty-sixth Conference of Parties (COP 26), a new United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)’s report shows that the world is still off-track in meeting the Paris goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C.

According to the UNEP’s Emissions Gap Report 2022, collectively, the number of updated pledges of 166 nations, removes less than one percent off projected greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2030.

“This is completely insufficient.  We need to cut 45 percent off emissions by 2030, over and above what current policies will deliver, to get on track to limiting global warming to 1.5°C. For 2°C, the challenge is smaller but still significant: 30 percent by 2030,” Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP said in a statement.

The report finds that unconditional Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs)- what countries could implement based on their own resources and capabilities- could lead to a 66 per cent chance of limiting global warming to about 2.6°C over the century while conditional NDCs, those that rely on external support, reduce the figure to 2.4°C.

Though currently, policies alone would lead to a 2.8°C hike, full implementation of unconditional NDCs and additional net-zero emissions commitments could contribute to only a 1.8°C increase. However, this scenario is not currently credible based on the discrepancy between current emissions, short-term NDC targets and long-term net-zero targets, the report says.

“If we are serious about climate change, we need to kick start a system-wide transformation, now. We need a root-and-branch redesign of the electricity sector, the transport sector, the building sector and food systems. And we need to reform financial systems so that they can bankroll the transformations we cannot escape,” Andersen urged.

The report finds that the transformation towards net-zero GHG emissions in electricity supply, industry, transportation and buildings is underway, but needs to move much faster. Electricity supply is most advanced, as the costs of renewable electricity have reduced dramatically. However, the report cautions that the pace of change must increase alongside measures to ensure a just transition and universal energy access.

For buildings, the best available technologies need to be rapidly applied while for industry and transport, zero emission technology needs to be further developed and deployed.

“To advance the transformation, all sectors need to avoid lock in of new fossil fuel-intensive infrastructure, advance zero-carbon technology and apply it, and pursue behavioural changes,” the report notes.

With food systems accounting for about a third of GHG emissions, the report calls for reforms to deliver rapid and lasting cuts including protection of natural ecosystems, demand-side dietary changes, improvements in food production at the farm level and decarbonization of food supply chains.

Action in these four areas can reduce projected 2050 food system emissions to around a third of current levels, as opposed to emissions almost doubling if current practices are continued, the report says.

Further, governments are urged to facilitate transformation by reforming subsidies and tax schemes whereas the private sector are called to reduce food loss and waste, use renewable energy and develop novel foods that cut down carbon emissions.  Also, individual citizens have been encouraged to change their lifestyles to consume food for environmental sustainability and carbon reduction, which will also bring many health benefits.

“Even if we don’t get everything in place by 2030, we will be setting up the foundation for a carbon-neutral future: one that will allow us to bring down temperature overshoots and deliver other benefits, like green jobs, universal energy access and clean air,” Andersen said.

“So, I urge every nation, every government to pore over the solutions offered in this report and build them into their climate commitments. I urge the private sector to start reworking their practices accordingly. I urge every investor, public and private, to put their capital towards a net-zero world. This is how we can jam open the closing window for climate action and start to change our world for the better, for everyone.”