Africa: 10 Things to Know About the Emissions Gap 2019

press release

The annual United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) flagship Emissions Gap Report is now online. But what is this report really about? And why should you care? Keep reading to find out more.

1. What is the "Emissions Gap"?

The Emissions Gap could also be called the "Commitment Gap". It measures the gap between what we need to do and what we are actually doing to tackle climate change. The gap is the difference between the low level of emissions that the world needs to drop to, compared with the projected level of emissions based on countries' current commitments to decarbonization.

2. Why does the Emissions Gap Matter?

The gap is important because if we can't close it and meet the emissions reduction target, we will face increasingly severe climate impacts worldwide. It is important that policymakers, and their citizens, know what the gap is so that the commitments countries are making are sufficient to close the gap.

3. What does the Emissions Gap Report measure?

This annual report from UNEP examines the progress of countries to close the gap via their commitments to emissions reduction, to ultimately stop climate change.

The Emissions Gap Report measures and projects three key trendlines:

The amount of greenhouse gas emissions every year up to 2030

The commitments countries are making to reduce their emissions and the impact these commitments are likely to have on overall emission reduction

The pace at which emissions must be reduced to reach an emission low that would limit temperature increase to 1.5oC, affordably

The report also identifies key opportunities for each country to increase the pace of emission reduction necessary to close the gap.

4. How are we doing?

In 10 years of producing the emissions gap report, the gap between what we should be doing and what we actually are is as wide as ever.

On the brink of 2020, we now need to reduce emissions by 7.6 per cent every year from 2020 to 2030. If we do not, we will miss a closing moment in history to limit global warming to 1.5°C. If we do nothing beyond our current, inadequate commitments to halt climate change, temperatures can be expected to rise 3.2°C above pre-industrial levels, with devastating effect.

5. Why are annual reductions so important?

Ten years ago, if countries had acted on this science, governments would have needed to reduce emissions by 3.3 per cent each year. Today, we need to reduce emissions by 7.6 per cent each year. By just 2025 the cut needed will steepen to 15.5 per cent each year. Every day we delay, the more extreme, difficult and expensive the cuts become.

6. Where do the emissions come from?

G20 nations collectively account for 78 per cent of all emissions, but only five G20 members (the EU and four individual members) have committed to long-term zero emission targets, of which three are currently in the process of passing legislation and two have recently passed legislation. The top four emitters (China, USA, EU28 and India) contribute to over 55 per cent of the total emissions over the last decade, excluding emissions from land-use change such as deforestation. If land-use change emissions were included, the rankings would change, with Brazil likely to be the largest emitter. The largest share of emissions come from the energy sector and its fossil fuel emissions. Industry produces the next largest footprint, followed by forestry, transport, agriculture and buildings.

7. Can we still close the gap? Yes, we can!

Climate change can still be limited to 1.5°C degrees. We must halve our emissions by 2030--this will take a 7.6 per cent cut in emissions every year from 2020. The good news is that we have the technology and science to decarbonize our energy sources, transport systems and cities. We have the knowledge to halt deforestation and scale reforestation. And these actions are affordable today. What it takes is commitment. Commitment from governments, backed by their citizens.

Luckily, there is also an increased understanding of the multiple benefits to act on climate change--such as cleaner air, better health, greener towns and cities, and growth within the renewable energy sector. Options for action, and the will to implement them, are growing just as fast as this understanding.

8. What are possible solutions to close the gap?

A full decarbonization of the energy sector is necessary and possible. Renewables and energy efficiency are critical to the energy transition. The potential emission reduction thanks to renewable energy electricity totals 12.1 gigatonnes by 2050. That's equivalent to the annual output of nearly two and a half million coal power stations: more than are operating in the world today. Electrification of transport could reduce the sector's CO2 emissions by a huge 72 per cent by 2050. Each sector and each country has unique opportunities to harness renewable energy, protect natural resources, lives and livelihoods, and transition to a decarbonization pathway.

9. What is my country doing exactly?

Chapter 2 [hotlink] of the report lists each country's current commitments. For many countries, analysis has been done to identify their biggest opportunities to decarbonize faster.

10. What can I do? Read the report, stay informed and urge those with decision-making powers to act now.

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