The world has ten years to halve emissions

A decade of insufficient political climate action means that we face a greater challenge with less time to overcome it.

March 5, 2020

Since 2010, the world’s emissions of greenhouse gases have not fallen but increased, despite repeated scientific warnings and global pressure to escalate climate action. This means that a previous goal of halving greenhouse gas emissions by 2040 is no longer enough.

Ten years of insufficient political action in the field of climate change has put the world in a position where we now both face a greater challenge and have less time to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to comply with the Paris Agreement. UNEP DTU Partnership expert and colleagues argue in a Comment piece in this week’s Nature.

In the comment leading international climate scientists point out that the world’s countries must halve greenhouse gas emissions within the next 10 years in order to comply with the Paris Agreement.

 “For the last ten years, we have spent a great deal of time pushing the burden in front of us. We can no longer do that. We must act now if we want to limit global warming in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement. We already see the consequences around us – in Denmark, for example, we just had the hottest winter and the wettest February ever, ”

– Anne Olhoff, one of the authors of the comment in Nature and UNEP DTU Partnership head of strategy for Climate Planning and Policy.

 Crisis mode needed

Anne Olhoff co-authors find that the required emissions cuts from 2020 to 2030 are now more than 7% per year on average for the 1.5 °C temperature limit set in Paris. The time window for halving global emissions has also narrowed: today it is 10 years for 1.5 °C; it would have been 30 years in 2010.

“The gap is so huge that governments, the private sector and communities need to switch into crisis mode, make their climate pledges more ambitious and focus on early and aggressive action,” the authors write.

Anne Olhoff points out, that this message of urgency needs to reach decision-makers before the next COP negotiation sin Glasgow in November:

“2020 is a critical year. Before the negotiations, countries have been asked to submit more ambitious climate plans. If the plans are not ambitious enough and if their implementation does not start right now, then it will be too late”

She adds, that the urgency in part is due to the fact that political processes take time, which we no longer have if we are to bend the emissions curve.

Based on Emissions Gap Reports

The authors’ conclusions are based on a synthesis of all ten editions of the UNEP Emissions Gap Report. Each year for the past ten years, the report has examined the difference (the ‘gap’) between what countries have pledged to do to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, and what they need to do collectively to meet agreed temperature goals.
The report is coordinated by UNEP DTU Partnership, and Anne Olhoff is one of the lead-authors of several sections.

Marking the ten year anniversary of the Emissions Gap Reports, UNEP DTU experts wrote a summary of a “lost decade of climate action”. Read it here.

While the world overall is lacking in action, some countries, regions, cities and businesses have promised or implemented urgently needed climate action.
For example, 76 countries or regions and 14 subnational regions or states have set or even implemented net-zero emissions goals.

Closing the gap will require scaling up these few success stories and mirroring them with progress in every sector. UNEP DTU Partnership will support this effort through both research and our advisory services, Anne Olhoff assures:

“At UNEP DTU Partnership, we continue to provide the latest scientific data through the Emissions Gap Reports, while at the same time, working with almost 100 developing countries on the preparation and implementation of climate plans as well as new technologies to strengthen the countries’ sustainability in climate and development. “