By Naomi Kitur and Christian Benard

New and updated climate commitments are not enough to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, leaving the world on track for a global temperature rise of 2.7°C by the end of the century, a United Nations Environmental Program’s (UNEP) report reveals.

The Emissions Gap Report: The Heat is on, released ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) set to take place in Glasgow, finds that countries’ updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) – and other commitments made for 2030 but not yet submitted in an updated NDC – only take an additional 7.5 per cent off predicted annual greenhouse gas emissions in 2030, compared to the previous round of commitments. Reductions of 30 per cent are needed to stay on the least-cost pathway for 2°C and 55 per cent for 1.5°C.

However, the report finds that net-zero pledges could make a big difference. The pledges could bring the predicted global temperature rise to 2.2°C providing hope that further action could still head off the most catastrophic impacts of climate change if implemented.

Despite this, net-zero pledges are however still incomplete in many cases, vague and inconsistent with most 2030 NDCs.

“Climate change is no longer a future problem. It is now a problem. To stand a chance of limiting global warming to 1.5°C we have eight years to make the plans, put in place the policies, implement them and ultimately deliver the cuts. The clock is ticking loudly,” Inger Andersen, UNEP Executive Director said.

To have any chance of limiting global warming to 1.5°C, the world has 8 years to take an additional 28 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide (CO₂) off annual emissions over what is promised in the updated NDCs and other 2030 commitments.

A drop in annual emissions of 13 gigatonnes by 2030 is required to achieve the 2°C target. Carbon dioxide emissions are expected to reach 33 gigatonnes in 2021.

“So there has been progress, but not enough. That is why we especially need the biggest emitters, the G20 nations, to come forward with stronger commitments to 2030 if we are to keep 1.5°C in reach over this critical decade.” Said Alok Sharma, the incoming COP26 president.

If made robust and implemented fully, net-zero targets could eliminate an extra 0.5°C off global warming bringing the predicted temperature rise down to 2.2°C. However, current plans are vague and not reflected in NDCs. Also, many of the national climate plans delay action until after 2030, raising doubts over whether net-zero pledges can be delivered, UNEP notes.

“Nations need to put in place the policies to meet their new commitments, and start implementing them within months. They need to make their net-zero pledges more concrete ensuring these commitments are included in NDCs and action brought forward,” Said Andersen.

“It is also essential to deliver financial and technological support to developing nations- so that they can both adapt to the impacts of climate change already here and set out on a low-emissions growth path.”

The Emissions Gap Report this year focuses on methane and market mechanisms elaborating that reduction of methane emissions from the fossil fuel, waste and agriculture sectors can contribute to closing the emissions gap and reduce warming in the short term.

Available no-or low-cost technical measures alone could lower emissions of anthropogenic methane by roughly 20% yearly.  Implementation of all measures, along with broader structural and behavioural measures, could reduce anthropogenic methane emissions by approximately 45 per cent.

Carbon markets, meanwhile, have the potential to reduce costs and thereby encourage more ambitious reduction pledges, but only if rules are clearly defined, are designed to ensure that transactions reflect actual reductions in emissions, and are supported by arrangements to track progress and provide transparency.

In vulnerable countries where climate change is a burden, revenues from carbon markets could fund mitigation and adaptation solutions.

The COVID-19 pandemic led to a drop in global carbon dioxide emissions of 5.4 per cent in 2020. However, CO2 and non-carbon dioxide emissions in 2021 are expected to rise again to a level only slightly lower than the record high in 2019.

Only around 20 per cent of total recovery investments up to May 2021 are likely to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Of this spending, almost 90 per cent is accounted for by six G20 members and one permanent guest.

In low-income economies, covid-19 spending has been far lower as compared to advanced economies with the former trailing at USD 60 per person while the latter having USD 11,800 per person. This will likely have an impact on vulnerable nations capacity in climate resilience and mitigation measures.