The Emissions Gap Report, coordinated by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the European Climate Foundation, released today, shows that greenhouse gas emissions levels are now around 14% above where they need to be in 2020.

Previous assessment reports had underlined that emissions need to be on average at around 44 gigatonnes (Gt) or less in 2020 if the planet had any chance of achieving goals to limit global warming to two degrees this century.

However, the report which involved 55 scientists from more than 20 countries, claims if no swift action is taken by nations, emissions are likely to be at 58Gt in eight years’ time.

UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP executive director Achim Steiner chaired the launch at the Royal Society on video link from Nairobi.

“Not only have we not made progress, we are actively moving in the wrong direction,” he said.

“Having already broken the speed limit in CO2 emissions, the world is putting its foot down on the pedal even though it knows a T-junction is ahead,” he added.

However, Steiner claimed that it was essential governments did not resign themselves to the fact that emission targets were unachievable.

“Our report challenges this kind of fatalism. It is perfectly feasible for the world to stay within a two degrees scenario,” he said.

Steiner pointed out that there were positive examples of emission cutting around the world, such as European Union economic powerhouse, Germany, who has invested heavily in renewables.

“Yet the sobering fact remains that a transition to a low carbon, inclusive Green Economy is happening far too slowly and the opportunity for meeting the 44 Gt target is narrowing annually,” he added.

Steiner also acknowledged that a series of reports from organisations including the World Bank, which claim that global temperatures could rise as high as four degrees as early as the 2060s might be correct.

However, these reports were extrapolations of the future based on the past, he argued, and with action the current course of events could be altered.

Also talking at the launch, UNEP chief scientist, Joseph Alcamo, noted that many countries were keen to sign an agreement in 2015 but that they would only go into effect in 2020.

He argued that this timeframe would be too late. Economic assessments in the report estimate that inaction would trigger costs likely to be at least 10-15% higher after 2020 if the required emission reductions were delayed into the following decades.

Alcamo said he spoke for the scientific community when he said it was not too late to act on achieving a two degree limit but he acknowledged that time was running out.

He said: “This report is not about political will it is about the scientists conveying a message to the policy community about what is feasible and what is not and the message from this report is quite clear- it is feasible to reduce emissions substantially enough to stay on a path of two degrees.

“However, we won’t always be able to say that and the closer we get to 2020 without change, of course, the less feasible it becomes.”

The report estimates that there are potentially large emissions reductions possible – in a mid-range of 17Gt of CO2 equivalents – from sectors such as buildings, power generation and transport.

Conor McGlone

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