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Emissions Gap Report 2021: “The Clock is Ticking Loudly”

The 2021 Emissions Gap Report published by The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and eloquently titled "The heat is on," shows that this century's global temperature rise is expected to be at least 2.7° C, and projected emissions by 2030 will be reduced by only 7.5%, while 55% is needed to limit global warming to 1.5°C.

According to the report, the COVID-19 pandemic caused an unprecedented 5.4 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions in 2020, but unfortunately, this was only a temporary reduction and we are on track to the pre-COVID emission levels. In most countries the recovery opportunity given by the pandemic was missed and global emissions are expected to grow by 4.8% in 2021, only slightly below the record levels of 2019.

The updated 2030 pledges announced by 120 countries would reduce carbon emissions by only 7.5% by 2030, about 47% less than what scientists believe is needed to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C. So, to reach the 1.5°C target by 2030 the world need to almost halve greenhouse gas emissions annually cutting 28 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent (GtCO2e) and for the 2°C target a drop in annual emissions must be 13 GtCO2e.

The new mitigation commitments for 2030 show some positive trends, but their cumulative effect on global emissions is insufficient. Hope for positive change comes from the announcement of long-term net-zero commitments made by 49 countries plus the EU, covering more than half of global emissions. However, these commitments have many ambiguities at the legislative level, and the implementation of most of them is aimed at 2050, and some even at 2060.

The report makes a forecast of the development of the situation until 2100. According to the most optimistic scenario, global warming will be at 2.2°C if the net-zero pledges will be fully implemented. If the countries fail to strengthen their climate ambitions, the temperature rise is estimated at least at 2.7°C. In addition, experts stress the need for financial support for developing economies to combat global warming from high-income countries.

In addition to the overall emissions situation, the report also looks at the impact and potential of specific sectors. This year’s edition focuses on methane emissions, which are the second largest contributor to global warming after carbon dioxide. Reducing methane emissions from the fossil fuel, waste, and agriculture sectors can help close the emissions gap and to slow down the rate of warming in the short term. Great opportunities to reduce methane emissions come from actions such as detecting and repairing leaks in oil and gas systems, eliminating gas flaring, recovering energy from landfill gas, and reducing food waste and losses.

 “Climate change is no longer a future problem. It is a now problem,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP. “Climate action so far has been characterized by weak promises, not yet delivered. To get on track to limit global warming to 1.5°C, we have eight years to make the plans, put in place the policies, implement them and ultimately deliver the cuts. The clock is ticking loudly.”