UN: Paris Agreement still not good enough to avoid serious climate change

Less than 24 hours before the Paris Agreement formally enters into force, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has warned that governments and the private sector must together scale-up climate ambition to reduce an additional 25% from predicted 2030 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The annual UNEP Emissions Gap report, released today (3 November), finds that 2030 emission levels are set to reach 54-56 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent (GtCO2e), even if the Paris Agreement is fully implemented and enacted upon, placing the world on track for a temperature rise of 2.9-3.4 degrees this century.

The opportunity to meet the 1.5C objective set in Paris will be lost, the report contends, unless climate ambition is increased rapidly through non-state actor involvement, energy efficiency acceleration and a stronger crossover with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

UN Environment head Erik Solheim said: “We are moving in the right direction – the Paris Agreement will slow climate change, as will the recent Kigali Amendment to reduce HFCs. They both show strong commitment, but it’s still not good enough if we are to stand a chance of avoiding serious climate change.

“If we don’t start taking additional action now, beginning with the upcoming climate meeting in Marrakesh, we will grieve over the avoidable human tragedy. The growing numbers of climate refugees hit by hunger, poverty, illness and conflict will be a constant reminder of our failure to deliver. The science shows that we need to move much faster.”

All is not lost

The fact that 2015 was the hottest year on record and the first six months of 2016 have continued the record-breaking global warming trend has highlighted the need for urgent action. The UNEP report presents an assessment of the various technologies and opportunities which could help limit emissions to the 42GtCO2e level needed to limit global warming to under 2C this century.

The private sector and other non-state actors such as cities and NGOs can significantly reduce the emissions gap by 2030 in areas and such as agriculture and transport, UNEP suggests, provided that many initiatives meet their goals and do not replace other action.

The paper also cites energy efficiency as a key area where investment could bring progress. Energy efficiency investment ranging between $20-100 per tonne of CO2 could potentially reduce 5.9 gigatonnes of emissions for buildings and 4.1 gigatonnes for industry by 2030, the UN researchers claim.

According to UNEP, the impacts of climate change could undermine the global push to deliver the SDGs by 2030, and carry extensive implications for the post-2030 climate action agenda. Successful implementation of the SDGs and Paris Agreement will depend on the ability of governments to develop national targets that takes advantage of common opportunities for both, the report states.

COP22 and beyond

Friday’s opening of the COP22 event in Marrakech will mark the day that the Paris Agreement officially comes into effect; becoming binding for four years for all of the nations that ratified it. The next step for the UN is deciding how it will monitor and enforce the deal.

COP22 also offers an opportunity to set up a clear strategy for increasing emission reductions ambitions for businesses and national governments. Last week, Unilever chief executive Paul Polman said that the business community’s sustainability success will ultimately hinge on its ability to match the emission reduction commitments of governments reiterated during COP22.

The oil and gas sector in particular faces mounting pressure to take an active role in the fight against climate change. According to reports, seven major oil companies including BP, Statoil and Total are expected to announce details of their plans to address global warming upon the start of the Marrakech conference.

Commitments from the construction industry will prove equally crucial in achieving the Paris Agreement. The latest Climate Action Tracker (CAT) report, released yesterday, found that all new buildings in OECD countries member countries will need to be zero-energy by 2020 to make the building sector compatible with the 1.5C warming target of COP21.

George Ogleby

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