By Sharon Atieno

The World still falls short of achieving the Paris Agreement goals of limiting global warming to well below 2°C and pursuing 1.5°C, however, a green pandemic recovery can reduce by almost a quarter the greenhouse emissions predicted in 2030 and put the world close to the 2°C pathway.

This is according to a recent UN Environment Programme (UNEP) report dubbed, Emissions Gap Report 2020. This far outstrips emissions savings that would be delivered under unconditional nationally determined contributions (NDCs), although more will be needed to achieve the 1.5°C goal, the report finds.

In addition, the report notes several measures would need to be given priority in order to reduce emissions including: direct support for zero-emissions technologies and infrastructure, reducing fossil fuel subsidies, no new coal plants, and promoting nature-based solutions – including large-scale landscape restoration and reforestation.

However, of the G20 members, only one-quarter have dedicated some spending, up to 3% of GDP, to such measures. For most, spending has been predominantly high carbon, implying net negative emissions, or neutral, having no visible effects on emissions, the report finds.

The report calls on governments to implement low-carbon policies and programmes in the next stage of COVID-19 fiscal interventions.

Notably, there is an increase in the number of countries committing to net-zero emissions goals with 126 countries covering  51% of global greenhouse gas emissions having adopted, announced or considering net-zero goals.

However, these commitments must be urgently translated into strong near-term policies and action and reflected in NDCs, the report says. More countries need to develop long-term strategies consistent with the Paris Agreement, and new and updated NDCs need to become consistent with the net-zero emissions goals.

‘’By investing in a green recovery to get a head start, and pushing on with systemic change planned and tracked through stronger NDCs, we could hit the 2°C target and have a real shot at the 1.5°C goal,” said Inger Andersen, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the UNEP.

Reforming consumption behaviour critical

The report notes that more attention is needed in the shipping and aviation sector which account for 5% of global emissions. Improvements in technology and operations can increase fuel efficiency, but projected increases in demand mean this will not result in decarbonization and absolute reductions carbon dioxide.

Both sectors need to combine energy efficiency with a rapid transition away from fossil fuel, the report finds. Also, additional policies are required to drive changes in technology, operations, fuel use and demand.

With around two-thirds of global emissions being linked to private households, when using computer-based accounting, the report finds that stronger climate action must include changes in consumption behavior by private sector and individuals.

Moreover, according to the UNEP report, the rich will need to reduce their footprint by a factor of at least 30 to stay in line with the Paris Agreement targets as they their combined emissions account for more than twice of the poorest.

Possible actions to enable and encourage consumers to avoid high-carbon consumption include replacing domestic short haul flights with rail, incentives and infrastructure to enable cycling and car-sharing, improving energy efficiency of housing, renewable energy defaults from grid providers and policies to reduce food waste, the report notes.