UNEP executive director Achim Steiner

5 November 2013 — If the global community doesn’t raise its commitment to cutting greenhouse gas emissions, the chance of keeping on a least-cost path to limit warming to 2°C will be lost, warns a new UN report.

The United Nations Environment Programme’s report, The Emissions Gap Report 2013, found that at present levels of commitment, greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 were likely to be eight to 12 gigatonnes of CO2-equivalent above the level that would provide a likely chance of remaining on the least-cost pathway.

The report follows the release of the Climate Change Authority’s draft report last week, which found that Australia’s emissions reduction target should be raised from five per cent to 15 per cent by 2020.

The UNEP report found that while pathways existed that could reach the 2°C target with higher emissions, doing so would make post-2020 mitigation extremely difficult.

The report warned this could mean much higher rates of global emission reductions in the medium term, greater lock-in of carbon-intensive infrastructure, greater dependence on often unproven technologies in the medium term, greater costs of mitigation in the medium and long term, and greater risks of failing to meet the 2°C target.

“As the report highlights, delayed actions means a higher rate of climate change in the near term and likely more near-term climate impacts, as well as the continued use of carbon-intensive and energy-intensive infrastructure,” said UN under-secretary-general and UNEP executive director Achim Steiner.

“This ‘lock-in’ would slow down the introduction of climate-friendly technologies and narrow the developmental choices that would place the global community on the path to a sustainable, green future.”

The report, however, said that meeting the 2020 targets was possible but required international cooperation. It mentioned several areas that could benefit from international cooperative initiatives, including:

  • Energy efficiency – which could cut the gap by up to two gigatonnes CO2e by 2020
  • Renewable energy initiatives – which could cut the gap by between 1–3 GtCO2e by 2020
  • Fossil fuel subsidy reform – which could cut the gap by between 0.4–2 GtCO2e by 2020

The report involved 70 scientists from 44 scientific groups in 17 countries and was funded by Germany’s Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety.

Read the full report.