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Climate Action Network comments on the release of the UNEP Emissions Gap report

Wednesday, November 19, 2014: The release of UNEP's Fifth Emissions Gap report today has added to the growing number of voices, including those of the 900 NGOS working together in Climate Action Network, which are calling for governments to scale up climate action to achieve a phase out of carbon pollution to zero by mid-century.

Today's report comes on the back of another blockbuster report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report which was released on November 1 and endorsed by governments. It said that the only way our economies can still prosper is if we both phase out fossil fuel pollution entirely and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

The UNEP report makes plain that if governments scale up climate action now, they will unlock the benefits of action for their communities, such as better public health, more secure livelihoods and a reduction in poverty.  

The concept of a global carbon budget shared by all nations - put forward by both the IPCC and UNEP - and the bold NGO call for phasing down emissions to zero by 2050 have now both been added to new draft negotiating texts for the international agreement to limit climate change due to be finalized in December 2015 in Paris.

At the major UN climate negotiations in Lima next month, governments can support these concepts in the text as way to guide collective climate action.  They can sign off on a platform that would support countries to roll out more renewable energy, invest in energy efficiency and build smarter ways of powering our lives.

In early 2015, governments will table a commitment to take climate action which will speed up the ongoing transition of our economies away from reliance on fossil fuels that drive climate change and towards 100% renewable energy - a shift more and more citizens, businesses, investors and scientists are demanding and driving.

Climate Action Network (CAN) is a global network of over 900 NGOs working to promote government and individual action to limit human-induced climate change to ecologically sustainable levels.

Contact: Ria Voorhaar, CAN International, email: rvoorhaar@climatenetwork.org, phone: +49 157 3173 5568


AAU Elephants

Negotiators are truly having a tough time putting the pieces for a second commitment period together. But soon they will face the enormous elephant in the room. A recent UNEP report estimates that up to 13 billion tonnes CO2 of surplus AAUs could be carried over to the next commitment period. This is almost three times the annual emissions of the EU. With the supply of hot air AAUs much higher than current reduction commitments (that are well under the 25-40% below 1990 levels by 2020 actually needed), carry-over would lead to no emission reductions compared to business-as-usual emission projections by 2020. As a matter of fact, CP2 commitments as they stand would likely lead to another surplus. This would be the case even if the large quantity of Russian surplus is excluded. Additionally, carbon credits from the CDM and JI that can be carried over would further lower actual emission reduction levels by 2020 by roughly 6%.

But there is hope! A proposal by the G77, which is technically sound and politically feasible in addressing this enormous loophole, could do the trick. Europe showed in Durban that it can pull its weight internationally by being the driving force behind the agreement for a new climate accord by 2015. This can’t be put at risk by domestic quarrels. The higher carbon price due to restricted carry-over could actually benefit surplus allowance holders, since it would avoid a likely price collapse after 2012.

However, ECO is deeply worried that a low ambition-laden second commitment period might emerge as a compromise. In particular, the differentiation of treatment between two types of hot air seems to be in the making. This could lead to an amendment that allows the European hot air that followed the economic crisis of 2008 to be fully carried over into the second commitment period. In particular, Brazil seems keen to allow such differentiation. ECO wonders why Brazil is so interested in helping further water down the weak European 2020 reduction target through the introduction of such a major loophole.


Where There's a Gap, There's a Way

ECO was pleasantly surprised by the tenor of interventions at the ADP roundtable on ambition Saturday. There was widespread acknowledgement that, as things currently stand, we are not on track for limiting global temperature rise to 2 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels. Many Parties lamented the lack of pre-2020 ambition, with one bright spark noting that failure to take decisive action in the short term has ominous implications for the post-2020 process.

In the words of one delegation “there is a serious gap”. This echoes what scientists have been telling us for some time now. In its “Bridging the Emissions Gap” report published at the end of 2011, UNEP undertook a systematic assessment of the size of what we should by rights be calling the Multi-Gigatonne Gap, concluding that it is in the range of 6-11 Gt.

So even under the most conservative assessment, which assumes perfect implementation of countries’ current pledges, the world is on a pathway to emit 50 gigatonnes of CO2-equivalent per year by 2020, instead of the needed 44 gigatonnes or less. This analysis is backed up by a whole host of studies, so it seems the science is pretty solid. We think the sheer scale of the gap should have countries setting up Emergency Emissions Reductions Crisis Centres (ECO would abbreviate them EEKKs! if it were in charge).

One reason for optimism is that as huge as the Multi-Gigatonne Gap is, UNEP estimates that emission reductions of between 14 to 20 Gt of CO2-equivalent are possible by 2020 and without any significant technical or financial breakthroughs needed. What is more, the costs incurred by these reductions would not be prohibitive. That sounds like a win-win situation to us.

So what exactly can countries do to stave off impending global meltdown (unfortunately, we are not talking figuratively here)? As it turns out, there’s rather a large menu of options to choose from. Many actions could be implemented with immediate effect, using existing frameworks outside the UNFCCC. The phase out of HFCs is an excellent case in point. Agreeing to a consumption and production phase-out of these super greenhouse gases under the Montreal Protocol, with cost-effective alternatives made available to developing countries, would avoid a whopping 88-140 gigatonnes/CO2e emissions by 2050 at a very reasonable price – the near-term emissions savings would also be sizeable. This approach was recently endorsed by the nations of the world at the Rio+20 Conference – all it would take now is for Parties to the UNFCCC to do the same, thereby freeing themselves up to tackle other challenges.

Other, equally crucial initiatives countries should undertake include addressing international emissions from aviation and shipping, which together account for a massive 5% of global CO2 emissions, abolishing fossil fuel subsidies and closing the huge loopholes in the current commitments (did you know that up to 13 billion surplus AAUs could make their way into the Kyoto Protocol’s next commitment period?) to name but a non-exhaustive few.

With such a long shopping list of potential measures to chose from, there really is no excuse for inaction.


2020 and the Climate: Milestone for Success or Epitaph for Failure

We cannot afford to wait any longer to begin serious mitigation efforts.  The emissions reductions pledged in the Cancun Agreement currently set the world on a trajectory for a 4.3° C temperature increase by 2100. According to the new UNEP “Bridging the Gap” report, an additional 6 to 11 Gt CO2 in emissions reductions are needed in order to reach a 2° C goal.  The good news is, UNEP shows how to reach the goal with economically and technologically feasible solutions, though the timeframe for success is narrow.  If rigorous action is postponed until 2020, success will drift beyond our reach.

Without political incentives to invest in alternative energy, governments will continue to rely on fossil fuels to meet growing energy demands, locking in carbon intensive technologies over the next eight years.  According to the International Energy Agency, for every $1.00 avoided in the power sector before 2020, an additional $4.30 would need to be spent after 2020 in order to compensate for the increased emissions.  Of course, any shortfall in mitigation will drive up adaptation costs and real impacts on lives to a much greater degree.

We need to give our world time for the transition to a low carbon economy. Emissions must peak by 2015 and sharply decline thereafter.  The task is formidable.  According to UNEP, “the highest average rate of emission reductions over the next four to five decades found in the [integrated assessment model] literature is around 3.5% per year.” But based on the C-ROADS model, emissions reductions would need to decline even more, at a rate of at least 4% per year between 2020 and 2050 to reach the 2° C target – a ramp-down rate well beyond historical experience.

Time is of the essence.  Clifford Mahlung, a delegate from Jamaica, said, “We’ve already waited too long.  I know countries need a little more time to get over their economic woes -- but eight years?”  And we need to agree strong package here in Durban to launch that effort now, as the climate clock is running faster and faster.

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UNEP: Bridging the Gap

Many delegates at last year’s COP in Cancun failed to take note of a rather large elephant lurking in the meeting rooms and corridors. And now that elephant has made its way to this COP – and has grown even larger.

Just last week, the UN Environment Programme issued an updated version of its landmark Emissions Gap report. Once again, UNEP concludes that by 2020 global emissions need to be reduced to 44 gigatonnes if the world is to be on a credible pathway to keeping warming below 1.5° C or even 2°.

First the bad news – UNEP finds that the gap between what is needed and what is on the table increased even more over the past year. Even if all countries go to the top end of their pledge ranges to cut emissions, and all loopholes are closed, the gap in 2020 will still be 6 gigatonnes – as much as the annual emissions of the US.

In the real world the gap is more likely to be around 11 gigatonnes. Developed countries are stuck on weaker, conditional pledges and their targets are riddled with loopholes. In fact, with the current weak pledges and lenient accounting rules, UNEP says that developed country emissions will be hardly any different than business as usual.

But there is also some good news in the report. UNEP says that with strong action now, it is possible to do even more than close the gap, without significant technical breakthroughs or prohibitive cost. How? By strongly focusing on energy efficiency and clean, renewable energy. By a major drive to halt deforestation. By improved waste management and agricultural practices. And by taking action on the currently unregulated sectors of international aviation and shipping.

To enable these real, practical solutions to prosper, the ambition of current pledges must be increased. All countries can and must do more. But first, developed countries need to raise their game dramatically. The Cancun Agreements recognised that developed country targets should be in the range of 25-40% below 1990 levels.  In ECO’s view, the ambition must rise above 40% if you are serious about 2° C – let alone the 1.5° C small islands need to keep afloat.

In a rational world, countries at Durban would listen to the trumpeting of the elephant and increase their pledges here and now. So ECO lives in hope.

Land use, land use change and forestry. UNEP says that weak LULUCF rules could contribute 0.6 gigatonnes to the emissions gap. These rules would allow developed countries to increase emissions from forestry activities while still claiming credits. Parties must discard these bad rules, and instead focus on accounting options with environmental integrity.

Surplus AAUs. The use of surplus allowances from the first commitment period could increase global emissions by as much as 2.9 gigatonnes in 2020, UNEP says. Strong rules to prevent or minimise the carryover of this surplus are essential.

Double counting of offsets against both developed country targets and developing country pledges could, along with fake offsets, increase the gap by 2 gigatonnes. Governments can and must rule this out once and for all.

Here in Durban, governments must also agree a robust process to formally recognise, quantify and close the gap. They must also agree to a peak year of 2015 in the Shared Vision. And they must agree a second commitment period to the Kyoto Protocol, alongside a mandate for a comprehensive legally binding agreement to be concluded no later than 2015 and enter into force on 1 January 2018, a timeline that will not rule out the prospects for an early peak in emissions.

Delegates should pay heed to the wise words of African proverbs. “A man who is trampled to death by an elephant is a man who is blind and deaf”. Or, more positively: “When an elephant becomes as small as a monkey, it ceases to be an elephant.”

If you want to find out more about the Bridging the Emissions Gap report, UNEP is holding a side event in the African Pavilion at 18.30 on Thursday 1 December.

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Key Findings of the 
Emissions Gap Report

Key Findings of the 
Emissions Gap Report
United Nations 
Environment Programme
November 2010


  • Studies show that emission levels of approximately 44 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) (range: 39-44 GtCO2e*) in 2020 would be consistent with a “likely” chance of limiting global warming to 2° C.
  • Under business-as-usual projections, global emissions could reach 56 GtCO2e (range: 54-60 GtCO2e) in 2020, leaving a gap of 12 GtCO2e.
  • If the lowest-ambition pledges were implemented in a “lenient” fashion**, emissions could be lowered slightly to 53 GtCO2e (range: 52-57 GtCO2e), leaving a significant gap of 9 GtCO2e.
  • The gap could be reduced substantially by policy options being discussed in the negotiations:
    •  By countries moving to higher ambition, conditional pledges
    •  By the negotiations adopting rules that avoid a net increase in emissions from (a) “lenient” accounting of land use, land-use change and forestry activities and (b) the use of surplus emission units
  • If the above policy options were to be implemented, emissions in 2020 could be lowered to 49 GtCO2e (range: 47-51 GtCO2e), reducing the size of the gap to 5 GtCO2e.  This is approximately equal to the annual global emissions from all the world’s cars, buses and transport in 2005 – But this is also almost 60 per cent of the way towards reaching the 2° C target.
  • It will also be important to avoid increasing the gap by “double counting” of offsets.
  • Studies show that it is feasible to bridge the remaining gap through more ambitious domestic actions, some of which could be supported by international climate finance.
  • 'With or without a gap, current studies indicate that steep emission reductions are needed post 2020 in order to keep our chances of limiting warming to2° C or 1.5°C.

Range here refers to the “majority of results”, i.e. their 20th and 80th percentile.
“Lenient” in this report is used to refer to the situation in which LULUCF accounting rules and the use of surplus emission units result in a net increase in emissions.

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Keys to the 2nd KP Commitment Period

It shouldn’t be too hard for Annex I countries to show needed leadership by actually agreeing emission reduction commitments in line with the top end of the IPCC 25-40% range.  After all, many reputable studies show how to reach that achievable goal.  But on the evidence thus far, those countries aren’t ready to embrace ambition yet.
Nevertheless, Annex I Parties can and should reach agreement in Cancun on a number of technical issues that lead toward commitments in 2011 to achieve the needed scale of emissions reductions, along with a shared understanding of the underlying rules and modalities that will influence the fair sharing out of their targets in 2013-2017.
This week’s launch of the UNEP Emissions Gap Report clearly demonstrates the massive and growing gap between the pledges now tabled and even a 2 oC pathway, much less one limiting global temperature rise to less than 1.5 oC. It is imperative to rapidly close the Gigatonne Gap and produce real emissions reductions, not fake accounting.
For these reasons, ECO reiterates the following points that need to be agreed here in Cancun:
* At least a 40% aggregate target for 2020 for developed countries from 1990 levels.
* LULUCF accounting that accurately tracks what the atmosphere sees rather than letting as much as 450 million tonnes of emissions vanish from the books.
* Address AAU banking (hot air) in a way that preserves environmental integrity. The UNEP report says that dealing with carry-
overs from the first commitment period as well as new surpluses created in the second could reduce the gap by up to 2.3 Gt..
* Continuation of the 1990 base year will facilitate comparability of targets across the commitment periods. Other reference years are being advocated simply to hide the lack of effort by some Parties.
* A 5-year commitment period to synchronize science reviews with the IPCC reports,  help align with political cycles in many countries, and to avoid complacency. (Take note, EU!)
* Strong domestic action to facilitate the transition to a zero carbon economy for developed countries by 2050. Strategic planning is required, not excessive offsetting.
* Fewer new dubious sources of credits (the never-ending cries for CCS and nuclear in the CDM), and more demand for projects that deliver sustainable development benefits.
* Use the most recent available science: that means IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report for global warming potential on the 100 year time horizon, not a political fudge. Is there a particular reason why Brazil does not support using the most recent science?
* Urge IMO and ICAO to take swift action to achieve a global approach, fully embracing the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, which means, for instance, that there is no net incidence on developing countries.
The KP modalities have the potential to lead to real emission reductions – or they can be a pretense that emissions are falling because of accounting tricks and self-serving rules to hide inaction.  The clock is running down and the choice is clear.  
And delegates, as always in a party-driven process, the choice is yours.

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UNEP Assesses 
the Gigatonne Gap

Remember the Gigatonne Gap? It’s the gap of 9 gigatonnes of CO2-equivalent between country pledges in the Copenhagen Accord and the emission reductions needed to avoid a temperature increase above 2o C.
A new UNEP report shows that many potential measures already exist to help close the gap, some of which are at stake at this COP.  The report demonstrates the feasibility of emission reductions and the importance of cooperation among governments and countries to raise their level of ambition. For a technical presentation and discussion of the political implications of the report’s findings, attend UNEP’s side event today in the Mexican Pavilion (Messe) from 18:30-20:30.  The report can be downloaded at www.unep.org/publications/ebooks/emissionsgapreport.

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Gigatonne gap!

sternWhether countries can agree to limit emissions sufficiently to allow the world to keep warming well below 2C is surely the most critical Copenhagen outcome. So it is timely to look at what is on the table so far, and to hold it up against what the science requires.

Over the last few days, three independent studies have set out to do just that. They all conclude that we are currently off track – although they reach differing conclusions on how big the gap is.

On Sunday, Nicholas Stern and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) came out with what, on the face of it, seems like great news. UNEP declared that here at Copenhagen, countries “may be closer than some observers realise to agreeing the emission cuts required to give the world a reasonable chance of avoiding global warming of more than 2˚C.”

ECO is delighted that Lord Stern and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner are adding an optimistic note to the negotiations, and are also convinced that a fair, ambitious and binding deal is within reach. But optimism also needs to be balanced by

First, the study’s benchmark is to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions to 44 gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2020, down from today’s levels of around 47 Gt. But this gives at best a 50% chance of staying below 2˚C – it is like playing Russian roulette with three bullets in the gun.

Lord Stern’s team reckons that if the high end of all the offers on the table from both industrialised and developing countries were to be delivered, global emissions would stand at around 46 Gt in 2020. This implies that even according to Lord Stern’s estimates, there is still a gap of 2 Gt that needs to be bridged.

However, two other credible studies paint a much less rosy picture. An updated assessment by McKinsey for Project Catalyst reckons that current pledges add up to at best 49 Gt (with the bulk of the reductions coming from developing countries). And another new report by Ecofys and Potsdam Institute says that the world is headed for warming of well over 3

The differing views are perhaps not surprising – among other things defining “business as usual” is a tricky business. But perhaps the most relevant and sobering finding is that neither Project Catalyst nor Potsdam/ Ecofys see any sign of a peak in emissions before 2020. Only yesterday, IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri said in CoP15’s opening plenary that global emissions must peak no later than 2015.

But even if Lord Stern is right – and would dearly like to believe him – it would be a mistake to assume that his headline figures are in any way in the bag, or that they can be taken at face value. The Stern assessment assumes that negotiators make dramatic progress on two other areas – delivering new finance and closing down loopholes.

On finance, Lord Stern is clear that substantial finance and other support is needed to ensure that developing countries can realise, or go beyond, their proposed emission reductions. So far, industrialised countries’ performance in coming forward with secure, predictable and additional finance has been pitiful.

The story on loopholes is also troubling. Lord Stern assumes that all surplus emission allowances from the first Kyoto commitment period are removed from the system. But there is no sign yet of an agreement on whether, or how, this could be done. Lord assumes that LULUCF rules with environmental integrity can be agreed – but the reality is that industrialised countries are pushing ahead with a pick ‘n mix approach to LULUCF accounting. Taken together, these loopholes could drive real global emissions back up by several gigatonnes.

Last but not least, Lord Stern also assumes that all offset credits represent real, additional emission reductions – and that systems can be put in place to avoid double counting of offsets. Again, a serious dose of realism is in order.

The true gap to a “well below” 2˚C deal can be closed here in Copenhagen – but let us not be under any illusion about how much work needs to be done.

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