Today at COP21, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) hosted a joint presentation on the 2015 UNEP Emissions Gap Report. This sixth Emissions Gap Report was published in November 2015. The report assesses country mitigation commitments based off their submitted INDCs. Then it compares the resulting emission levels for 2030 with what scientific studies require in order for the world to be on track to stay within the maximum global temperature increase goal of 2°C. Many of the report’s authors attended the presentation and the official presenters of the report included:
- Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director and Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations;
- Halldor Thorgeirsson, UNFCCC Director for Strategy; and
- Jacqueline McGlade, Chief Scientist of UNEP;
Mr. Steiner explained that based on current INDCs, GHG emissions would decrease 25% by 2030. While this reduction shows progress, it is still not sufficient to achieve the goal of limiting the global temperature increase to 2°C by 2100. As the INDCs stand today, accounting for both conditional and unconditional mitigation pledges, the COP is 50% of the way to achieving a GHG reduction of 42 GtCO2e, the amount needed to stay within 2°C. The fact that current INDCs are halfway to their reduction goals indicates that significant further mitigation efforts are required. Mr. Steiner stressed that the Parties have not run out of time to reach their goal, but the longer they wait the less cost-effective and more difficult it becomes to successfully achieve these mitigation goals. Mitigation action over the next four years, or during the pre-2020 timeframe, is material to staying within the 2°C threshold. With each passing year, the risk of inequity grows exponentially between developed countries and countries most vulnerable to climate change; this inequity is unacceptable because many vulnerable State Parties are already paying a higher price as they suffer more and more extreme weather events caused by climate change.
The UNFCCC Director of Strategy, Mr. Thorgeirsson, furthered the discussion on INDCs with three interesting, and mostly optimistic, reflections. First, he explained that the 2°C and 1.5°C temperature goals, which are often called long-term goals, are not necessarily at odds with one another. According to Mr. Thorgeirsson, the 2°C limit would serve as “a guardrail or defense line,” meaning that at bare minimum Parties’ mitigation efforts would limit the global temperature increase to 2°C, but this guardrail would be supplemented with the aspirational goal of limiting the temperature increase to 1.5°C. Ultimately, Mr. Thorgersson believes the two temperature goals should converge to create a joint narrative.
In his second reflective thought, Mr. Thorgeirsson encouraged the audience to not be disheartened by the submitted INDCs because the mitigation commitments in these documents reflect current realities based on current technologies and political situations. Therefore as technologies and political situations evolve so will mitigation pledges.
Lastly, Mr. Thorgersoon declared that answering the question of whether the Parties are on the right track in their mitigation efforts is an impossible question to address. States across the globe are in the process of transitioning from a fossil-fuel economy to economies based on different assumptions. These new types of economies contain many unknown factors that make it difficult to definitively know the effect of the Party’s mitigation pledges.
Ms. Jacqueline McGlade, Chief Scientist for UNEP, was the final presenter of the 2015 UNEP Emissions Gap Report. In her presentation, Ms. McGlade explained that the UNEP report has been released in various stages in order to capture and present more accurate carbon emissions data as more Parties submit their INDCs to the UNFCCC. This drafting difficulty is an on-going dilemma. Ms. McGlade explained that over 40 INDCs have been submitted since the latest stage of the UNEP report was released. She then assured the crowd that after COP21 concluded she and her team would resume updating their study to reflect the new mitigation pledges.
Ms. McGlade concluded the presentation with a final call to action, explaining that under the current INDC mitigation pledges there is a 66% chance of the global temperature increasing 3-4°C by 2100. A temperature increase of 3-4°C would result in catastrophic effects, but with focus and action the 1.5-2°C goals can still be reached. The COP21 process has revealed an unprecedented level of engagement in addressing climate change as an international issue. This engagement is a promising indicator that the Parties’ are committed to successfully fulfilling their long-term mitigation goal of limiting the temperature increase to 1.5-2°C.