Can we move beyond the Paris climate pact to address the emissions gap?

30 November 2017

(Landscape News) — Meeting the energy needs of a growing global population while mitigating the effects of climate change requires significant shifts in supply, efficiency and the rapid implementation of low-carbon development pathways.

Although this shift is not impossible, developed countries need to boost activities and many developing countries need more international support to implement green growth strategies and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The Paris Agreement signed by almost 200 countries to restrict global temperature increases to well below 2 degrees Celsius, and to pursue efforts to limit increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius, was undoubtedly an important step towards effective climate action, but a new report on emissions from the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) argues that it was not ambitious enough.

MIND THE GAP

The “Emissions Gap Report 2017” estimates that the reductions pledged by the international community through Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to address climate change challenges and reduce emissions represent only one-third of what is needed. By 2030, it warns, emissions could be 11 to 13 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent higher than the level needed to stay on the least cost path to meeting the 2 degrees target.

“The gap between the reductions needed and the national pledges made in Paris is alarmingly high,” the report states. “Looking beyond 2030 it is clear that if the emissions gap is not closed by 2030, it is extremely unlikely that the goal of holding global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius can still be reached.” Failure to act would threaten development gains and expose billions of people to extreme weather events and rising sea levels.

ADDRESSING THE GAP

Although there have been some improvements – CO2 emissions have been stable since 2014, attributed in part to renewable energy initiatives in India and China – other greenhouse gas emissions such as methane continue to rise, and there are fears that economic growth could result in an increase in CO2 emissions in the near future.

In response, the Emissions Gap report outlines an ambitious agenda for governments, the private sector and civil society groups to rapidly cut emissions to manageable levels and scale-up renewable energy and energy efficiency initiatives. It calls for investments in six critical sectors – agriculture, construction, energy, forestry, industry and transport – which the report estimates could save up to 36 GtCO2e per year by 2030.

One urgent priority is to capture and store atmospheric carbon, either thro ugh “biological” measures – afforestation, reforestation and land restoration – or the development of new technologies that facilitate direct air capture or combine bioenergy generation with capture and storage capabilities. There is additional potential in the manufacture of more efficient appliances and passenger cars and the reduced use of hydrofluorocarbons in the manufacture of air conditioners, refrigerators and foam insulation.

A rapid shift away from coal dependence is also needed. Avoiding the construction of new coal-fired power plants and phasing out existing ones is crucial – but this will require incentives and a careful consideration of employment impacts, investor behaviors and energy stability in many parts of the world.

Potential policies to facilitate this shift could include removing coal subsidies; introducing appropriate carbon pricing to discourage the use of coal; banning the construction of new coal power plants beyond a certain date; and “de-risking” clean energy investments – through improvements in grid infrastructure, identifying and removing regulatory hurdles, and offering bridging investment subsidies.

ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND HEALTH GAINS

Beyond emission cuts, UNEP argues, investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency would generate additional social and economic benefits. This claim is backed by the “1 Gigaton Coalition,” supported by the Norwegian government and coordinated by UNEP, which released a study to coincide with the Emissions Gap Report and the U.N. climate negotiations in Bonn.

The study stresses that increased investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency represent opportunities for developing countries – creating jobs, stimulating economic activity, and by reducing air pollution, helping to improve human health.

As examples of what is possible, it highlights a waste-to-energy plant in New Delhi that has saved an estimated 8.2 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions over the past 25 years; a scheme in Nanjing, China that introduced 4,300 electric vehicles to the city’s streets in 2014-15 – reducing emissions by 246,000 tons of CO2 equivalent and cutting energy bills by some $71 million; and a project in Lagos that brought solar power to 50,000 homes, clinics, schools and businesses – generating 450 jobs and benefits for over 250,000 people.

“The 1 Gigaton Coalition report clearly shows that investments in renewables and energy efficiency measures aren’t just about heading off catastrophic climate change,” said Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment. “They can make people’s lives better right now by reducing air pollution and creating jobs that will last.”

 

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