The Emissions Gap Report 2013

The emissions gap in 2020 is the difference between emission levels in 2020 consistent with meeting climate targets, and levels expected in that year if country pledges and commitments are met. As it becomes less and less likely that the emissions gap will be closed by 2020, the world will have to rely on more difficult, costlier and riskier means after 2020 of keeping the global average temperature increase below 2° C. If the emissions gap is not closed, or significantly narrowed, by 2020, the door to many options limiting the temperature increase to 1.5° C at the end of this century will be closed. Article 2 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (‘Climate Convention’) declares that its “ultimate objective” is to “[stabilize] greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”. The parties to the Climate Convention have translated this objective into an important, concrete target for limiting the increase in global average temperature to 2° C, compared to its pre-industrial levels. With the aim of meeting this target, many of the parties have made emission reduction pledges, while others have committed to reductions under the recent extension of the Kyoto Protocol. Since 2010, the United Nations Environment Programme has facilitated an annual independent analysis of those pledges and commitments, to assess whether they are consistent with a least-cost approach to keep global average warming below 2° C 1. This report confirms and strengthens the conclusions of the three previous analyses that current pledges and commitments fall short of that goal. It further says that, as emissions of greenhouse gases continue to rise rather than decline, it becomes less and less likely that emissions will be low enough by 2020 to be on a least-cost pathway towards meeting the 2° C target2. As a result, after 2020, the world will have to rely on more difficult, costlier and riskier means of meeting the target – the further from the least-cost level in 2020, the higher these costs and the greater the risks will be. If the gap is not closed or significantly narrowed by 2020, the door to many options to limit temperature increase to 1.5° C at the end of this century will be closed, further increasing the need to rely on accelerated energy-efficiency increases and biomass with carbon capture and storage for reaching the target. 1. What are current global emissions? Current global greenhouse gas emission levels are considerably higher than the levels in 2020 that are in line with meeting the 1.5° C or 2° C targets, and are still increasing. In 2010, in absolute levels, developing countries accounted for about 60 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. The most recent estimates of global greenhouse gas emissions are for 2010 and amount to 50.1 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) per year (range: 45.6– 54.6 GtCO2e per year). This is already 14 percent higher than the median estimate of the emission level in 2020 with a likely chance of achieving the least cost pathway towards meeting the 2° C target (44 GtCO2e per year)3. With regards to emissions in 2010, the modelling groups report a median value of 48.8 GtCO2e, which is within the uncertainty range cited above. For consistency with emission scenarios, the figure of 48.8 GtCO2e per year is used in the calculation of the pledge case scenarios. Relative contributions to global emissions from developing and developed countries changed little from 1990 to 1999. However, the balance changed significantly between 2000 and 2010 – the developed country share decreased from 51.8 percent to 40.9 percent, whereas developing country emissions increased from 48.2 percent to 59.1 percent.  

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