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2013 Gap Report Strengthens Case for Wide-Ranging Global Action to Close Emissions Gap

Posted on 7 November 2013 by John Hartz

This article is a reprint of a press release posted by United Nations Environment Programme on Nov 5, 2013.

Raising Ambition is Key to Keeping Global Temperature Rise below 2° C

Cover of UNEP's The Emissions Gap Report 2013

Should the global community not immediately embark on wide-ranging actions to narrow the greenhouse gas emissions gap, the chance of remaining on the least-cost path to keeping global temperature rise below 2°C this century will swiftly diminish and open the door to a host of challenges.

The Emissions Gap Report 2013-involving 44 scientific groups in 17 countries and coordinated by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP)-is released as leaders prepare to meet for the latest Climate Change Conference of the Parties in Warsaw.

It finds that although pathways exist that could reach the 2oC target with higher emissions, not narrowing the gap will exacerbate mitigation challenges after 2020.

This will mean much higher rates of global emission reductions in the medium term; greater lock-in of carbon-intensive infrastructure; greater dependence on often unproven technologies in the medium term; greater costs of mitigation in the medium and long term; and greater risks of failing to meet the 2° C target.

Even if nations meet their current climate pledges, greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 are likely to be 8 to 12 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent (GtCO2e) above the level that would provide a likely chance of remaining on the least-cost pathway.

If the gap is not closed or significantly narrowed by 2020, the door to many options to limit temperature increase to a lower target of 1.5° C will be closed, further increasing the need to rely on faster energy-efficiency improvements and biomass with carbon capture and storage.

In order to be on track to stay within the 2° C target and head off the negative impacts outlined above, the report says that emissions should be a maximum of 44 GtCO2e by 2020 to set the stage for further cuts needed-to 40 GtCO2e by 2025, 35 GtCO2e by 2030 and 22 GtCO2e by 2050. As this target was based on scenarios of action beginning in 2010, the report finds that it is becoming increasingly difficult to meet this goal.

"As the report highlights, delayed actions means a higher rate of climate change in the near term and likely more near-term climate impacts, as well as the continued use of carbon-intensive and energy-intensive infrastructure. This 'lock-in' would slow down the introduction of climate-friendly technologies and narrow the developmental choices that would place the global community on the path to a sustainable, green future," said UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.

"However, the stepping stone of the 2020 target can still be achieved by strengthening current pledges and by further action, including scaling up international cooperation initiatives in areas such as energy efficiency, fossil fuel subsidy reform and renewable energy," he added. "Even agriculture can contribute, as direct emissions from this sector are currently responsible for 11 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions-more if its indirect emissions are taken into account."

Total global greenhouse gas emissions in 2010, the last year for which data are available, already stood at 50.1 GtCO2e, highlighting the scale of the task ahead. Should the world continue under a business-as-usual scenario, which does not include pledges, 2020 emissions are predicted to reach 59 GtCO2e, which is 1 GtCO2e higher than estimated in last year's gap report.

Scientists agree that the risks of irreversible damage to the environment would increase significantly should the global average temperature rise above 2°C in relation to pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. The latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change confirmed that human activity is 'extremely likely' (95 to 100 per cent probability) to be the cause of this warming.

"As we head towards Warsaw for the latest round of climate negotiations, there is a real need for increased ambition by all countries: ambition which can take countries further and faster towards bridging the emissions gap and a sustainable future for all," said Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. "However, increased national ambition will not be enough to meet the scientific realities of climate change, which is one reason why a universal new agreement-able to catalyze international cooperation-is urgently needed by 2015."

Without heightened focus and resolve now, more rapid and expensive emission reductions will be required later, resulting in higher mitigation costs and greater economic challenges during the transition toward a comprehensive climate-policy regime.

A separate report from UNEP finds that adaptation costs for Africa could reach $350 billion per year by 2070 should the two-degree target be significantly exceeded, while the cost would be $150 billion lower per year if the target were to be met.

Meeting the 2020 goal is possible

Even though the window of opportunity is narrowing, it is still possible to attain the 2020 goal of 44 GtC02e/year through firm and rapid action. Studies reveal that, at costs of up to US$100 per tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent, emissions could be reduced by 14 to 20 GtCO2e compared to business-as-usual levels.

For example, simply tightening up the rules governing pledges in the climate negotiations could narrow the gap by about 1-2 GtCO2e, while if countries implement the maximum reductions already pledged without conditions could narrow it by 2-3 GtCO2e. Expanding the scope of pledges could narrow the gap by further 2 GtCO2e. These include covering all emissions in national pledges, having all countries pledge emission reductions, and reducing emissions from international transport.

Adding up the reduction from the tightening of rules, implementing ambitious pledges, and expanding the scope of the current pledges could bring the global community about halfway to closing the gap. The report says that the remaining gap could be bridged by further international and national action, including through "international cooperative initiatives".

International cooperation could bring huge gains

There are an increasing number of international cooperative initiatives, through which countries and other bodies cooperate to promote technologies or policies that have climate benefits, even though climate change mitigation may not be the primary goal of the initiative.

The report identified several areas ripe for such initiatives, with many partnerships already in place that can be expanded and replicated to bring the needed gains:

  • Energy efficiency, which could cut the gap by up to 2 GtCO2e by 2020. For example, electricity for lighting accounts for approximately 15 per cent of global power consumption and five per cent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. More than 50 countries have joined the en.lighten Global Efficient Lighting Partnership Programme and agreed to phase out inefficient incandescent lamps by the end of 2016;
  • Renewable energy initiatives could cut 1 to 3 GtCO2e from emissions by 2020. A total of $244 billion was invested in renewable energy in 2012 and 115 GW of new renewables were installed worldwide-a record year according to REN21's Renewables 2013 Global Status Report. Over the last eight years, the number of countries with clean energy targets has tripled from 48 to 140, indicating that the shift to renewables is gaining pace;
  • Fossil fuel subsidy reform, which could bring benefits of 0.4 to 2 GtCO2e by 2020;

However, in order for international cooperative initiatives to be effective, the report finds that they must have:

  • A clearly defined vision and mandate;
  • The right mix of participants appropriate for that mandate, going beyond traditional climate negotiators;
  • Stronger participation from developing country actors;
  • Sufficient funding and an institutional structure that supports implementation and follow-up, but maintains flexibility;
  • Incentives for participants;
  • Transparency and accountability mechanisms.

Agriculture offers opportunities

This year's report pays particular attention to the agriculture sector as, although few countries have specified action in this area as part of implementing their pledges, estimates of emission-reduction potentials for the sector range from 1.1 GtCO2e to 4.3 GtCO2e.

The report outlines a range of measures that not only contribute to climate-change mitigation, but enhance the sector's environmental sustainability and could provide other benefits such as higher yields, lower fertilizer costs or extra profits from wood supply.

As examples, three key practices that should be scaled-up more widely are highlighted:

  • No-tillage practices. No-tillage refers to the elimination of ploughing by direct seeding under the mulch layer of the previous season's crop. This reduces emissions from soil disturbance and use of farm machinery.
  • Improved nutrient and water management in rice production. This includes innovative cropping practices that reduce methane and nitrous oxide emissions.
  • Agroforestry. This consists of different management practices that deliberately include woody perennials on farms and the landscape, and which increase the uptake and storage of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in biomass and soils.

Notes to Editors

The report, which involved 70 scientists from 44 scientific groups in 17 countries, was funded by Germany's Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety. The full report can be downloaded here:

Two applications for smartphones are also downloadable.


iPhone iPad:

Related Links and Reports

UNEP's Climate Change portal:


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Comments 1 to 8:

  1. "increasing the need to rely on faster energy-efficiency improvements and biomass with carbon capture and storage"

    Yes, of course, we have to push ahead on every efficiency and alternative energy program that can realistically help reduce our carbon footprint. But all these things take time, and time is what we have least of. Fast reductions now will be much more crucial than gradual reductions over years and decades for keeping atmospheric CO2 levels from skyrocketing.

    It is only the demand side that can change as fast as what we need. We have to give up the idea that we have the luxury to continue to use energy (from whatever source) at the levels we are now using it. Cutting energy (and other resource use) of the wealthiest 20% in the world (who use about 80% of the same) by about 25 %, and you suddenly have a situation that looks much more favorable for scaling up renewables and efficiency fast enough to replace nearly all ff in the next few years, which is what we have to do.

    Note that energy and resource use above a certain minimal level has not been shown to greatly increase happiness, so on one level this does not even require sacrifice, though it may feel like it at first.

    Of course the eternal question is "Who will bell the cat."


    For more, do see one of Kevin Anderson's talks. He really does seem to have gotten it mostly right.


    Or his opinion piece in "Nature: Climate Change" here:


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  2. widescale installation of specific and highly subisidized efficiency products can reduce national residential electricity consumption by over 40%.  Japan is projecting to install over 30 million micro Combined Heat and Power units by 2030 in preperation for a shift to a hydrogen-based economy by 2070.


    The average u.s. residential solar installation is 7 kW.  Typically a home can produce enough electricity to provide its entire average annual demand with a 3.5-4.5 kW system.

    By shifting to comprehensive residential solar, community-sourced and municipally sourced solar, wind, micro CHP and efficiency, the u.s. carbon emissions profile can be reduced by over 80% in the next 20 years. 

    Europe Micro CHP trial

    The Era of Air-Sourced Heat Pumps is Here

    The U.S. Solar Market


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  3. There's certainly much that can be done, but the elephant in the room is the collection of vested interests who have no desire to see such action and who have an unfortunate and disproportionate influence on what happens.

    From Pricing carbon: the politics of climate policy in Australia:

    The politics of climate change in Australia, its carbon pricing politics in particular, is subject to complex and interrelated influences, with political and economic interests largely shaping the policy agenda over the last two decades. The objection of the carbon based industrial lobby to carbon pricing has long been a significant obstacle to the adoption of a carbon tax or an ETS, as has the influence of neoliberal and conservative politics. Normative shifts have been achieved at times, however, providing fleeting windows of opportunity to act, under the Hawke and Rudd governments in particular. However, neither government was able to withstand industry pressure or to provide the leadership required to achieve change. Ironically the most successful government in terms of achieving carbon pricing was the Gillard Labor minority government, which needed to act decisively in order to honor its written agreement with its Green political supporters. The MPCCC process established as agreed between Labor and the Greens, brought in the independents, who were then involved in shaping and agreeing to the carbon pricing mechanism and its passage through parliament. The fragile politics of minority government, with its distinctive uncertainty and bargaining opportunities, has therefore led directly to carbon pricing in Australia by providing for institutional processes that were secure against industry lobbying. However, these processes cannot guarantee that the government withstands industry lobbying during the implementation of carbon pricing nor that it ultimately achieves effective emissions abatement.

    (WIREs Clim Change 2013, 4:603–613. doi: 10.1002/wcc.239)

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  4. The only way we are going to reduce carbon emissions is if/when renewable energy is less expensive than fossil fuel energy.  We are very likely there already with solar-electric but what is missing is a legislated relationship between the small generator and the big power company which is fair to both and for governments to stop trying to milk the adoption of solar energy for revenue.  Wind power is also there but here the governments must give a hand proving or disproving the allegations of the anti-wind loby and if any true negative effects are found, help to mitigate them.  We are at the point where the problems are human/political/greed, not technical.

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  5. "relationship between the small generator and the big power company". The trouble I think is in expectations. Why should a power company be expected to buy from the big generators at one price but have to pay effectively much higher retail price when buying from home producers? And yet, this is often what grid-feed solar installers often seem to think is their entitlement. Furthermore, the network provider is more or less forced to take the power since home producers dont participate in the generation market bidding.

    Given the large proportion of electrcity from renewable sources in NZ, home solar power isnt as environmentally friendly as in say Germany (where the alternative is nuclear, gas or coal). At least until electric cars are common.

    What would make sense for encouraging more solar power, would be targeted rates available to people wanting to install solar and in situations where there is say 3000-4000 hours of sunshine a year. This ties the capital cost (and its repayment) to the house rather than the person.

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  6. Strengthening pledges will do nothing to reduce emissions. Only actions can do that. I see no evidence of any likelihood that governments will even begin to take the actions necessary. When you add to that that 2C is probably too high of a limit (as Kevin Anderson has mentioned) and 450ppm is probably too high of a limit (as James Hansen has mentioned), we had better prepare ourselves (individually) for a huge change in the future. The best I can hope for is that the deterioration isn't too great for the next 30 years, which would likely see me out) but my kids (and theirs) are going to get it in the neck.
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  7. Perhaps all that there is left is for the scientific community to do is to wash its hands en masse of the IPCC, while expressing the sentiment that there is no longer any point in informing a political class that clearly has no intention of behaving in a responsible manner as far as climate change is concerned.

    If they refused to attend any congressional or parliamentary hearings, ignored all requests for interviews and only continue their scientific exploration of climate change in order to provide future generations with an measure of what was known and therefore the enormity of the irresponsibility that the failure to act represents. In addition, they will see the enormity of the crime collectively committed by Inhofe, Monckton, Lawson and their like. The archives will show the almost complete failure of the media to behave responsibly and do what society rewards them handsomely to do, namely inform the public. They can have no defence when public opinion is so divided on the issue while there is an overwhelming scientific consensus. While these people might escape public opprobrium today, I imagine their heirs would be subject to some attention by those most afflicted by climate change as Mother Nature gets into her stride in turning up the thermostat. Who knows, they might even be stripped of their inherited wealth, especially if there is good reason to suspect that that wealth has at least in part been funded by the fossil fuel industry. One thing we can be sure of is that society will not be genteel in the conditions that it seems are inevitable.

    Or we can carry on with the 'same old same old', wring our hands, gnash our teeth and achieve about as much as has been achieved thus far, i.e. precious little. Let’s be honest with ourselves at least. We know where climate change is headed, we know what needs to be done and we know that without something very dramatic happening, that our heirs are in for a very poor time of it because nothing is going to be done.

    Perhaps an en masse resignation from the IPCC might be a step too far, but a week long strike on the part of all climate scientists would grab the attention of the politicians, especially the threat of longer strikes if the politicians continue to only give lip service to the problem. I suspect that it would come as a surprise to the general public to learn just how much they rely on climate science for their day to day needs, especially weather forecasts that are based on exactly the same science that climate forecasts well into the future also rely on. The public need to be made aware of the commonality between the two.

    The fossil fuel industry has shown a ready willingness to play hard ball. Perhaps the time has come for the science community to do likewise. In fact, perhaps there is no perhaps about it.

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  8. Along the lines of Funglestrumpet's remarks, I know a couple of authors w/the AR5 WG1 both of whom are fairly jaded about the continued utility of certain parts of the IPCC effort. The gist of their feelings is that the research most significant for communicating the IPCC's basic message is long done, and the continued effort of repeating themselves every few years is pointless. Doing the shovel work of producing the report is exhausting*, enough so that unnecessary repetition isn't appealing. Let alone that, it's also a major drain on time that could otherwise be spent doing new research, rather than repackaging already-published material.

    Not to say there's a lack of fascinating research to continue pursuing, just that the public and hence policy makers have been told what the problem is and what needs to be changed in order to fix it. 

    Dinner is done, but nobody seems to have an appetite. A metaphor rich with possibilities. :-)

    There's continuing use for the IPCC, along the lines of bringing the dessert menu. Or a bucket.

    *Look at the details as recorded by the IPCC and you can see why.

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