Global emissions of greenhouse gases, which are responsible for global warming, are growing rather than declining as they should. Even if all countries meet the unconditional commitments they made at the Paris conference in 2015, GHG emissions will be way more than what they should be. India is among the few countries that are on track to meeting their Paris targets (called ‘nationally determined contributions’ or NDCs).

This is the central message of the United Nations Environment Programme’s ‘Emissions Gap Report, 2019’, released today. ‘Emissions gap’, as defined by the report itself, refers to “the difference between where we re likely to be and where we need to be.”

“The summary findings are bleak. Countries collectively failed to stop the growth in global GHG emissions, meaning that deeper and faster cuts are now required,” the EGR 2019 says.

Total GHG emissions, including from land-use change, reached a record high of 55.3 GtCO2e (Giga tonnes of Carbon dioxide equivalent) in 2018. Fossil CO2 emissions from energy use and industry, which dominate total GHG emissions, grew 2.0 per cent in 2018, reaching a record 37.5 GtCO2 per year.

“There is no sign of GHG emissions peaking (or stopping to rise and begin declining) in the next few years; every year of postponed peaking means that deeper and faster cuts will be required. By 2030, emissions would need to be 25 per cent and 55 per cent lower than in 2018 to put the world on the least-cost pathway to limiting global warming to below 2˚C and 1.5°C, respectively,” the report says.

(The “2 degrees and 1.5 degrees” mentioned refer to the temperature increases from the average temperatures that existed in the pre-industrialization period of the mid 19th century. Climate scientists believe that if the planet warms by more than 2 degrees the consequences will be unmanageably disastrous. If it is limited to 2 degrees, the consequences will be dire but manageable. Up to 1.5 degrees, it is not a problem.)

The emissions gap is large. In 2030, annual emissions need to be 15 GtCO2e lower than current unconditional NDCs imply for the 2°C goal, and 32 GtCO2e lower for the 1.5°C goal.

The longer the world takes to slash GHG emissions, the more will be the burden to do so in the later years.

Had serious climate action begun in 2010, the cuts required per year to meet the projected emission levels for 2°C and 1.5°C would only have been 0.7 per cent and 3.3 per cent per year on average. However, since this did not happen, the required cuts in emissions are now 2.7 per cent per year from 2020 for the 2°C goal and 7.6 per cent per year on average for the 1.5°C goal, the report says.

“The scale of transformative global climate commitments needed to prevent runaway climate change are clearly missing,” says Aarti Khosla, Director at Climate Trends, a Delhi-based strategic communications body that specializes in building narratives around climate change. Countries need to triple their level of commitments they made at Paris if the world should stay safe, she observes.

India doing good

India is among the few countries that are on track to meeting their Paris commitments. The other countries mentioned by the report are China, the European Union (28 countries), Mexico, Russia and Turkey.

India had made three promises at the 21st Conference of Parties meeting in Paris, in December 2015. [‘Conference of Parties’ refers to the conference of countries that are parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).] One, to lower emission intensity of GDP (or how much emissions would happen to achieve one unit of GDP) by 33-35 per cent from 2005 levels; two, create more forests so as to absorb 2.5 billion to 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and three, 40 per cent of installed capacity for electricity generation based on non-fossil fuels.

UNEP’s report says that India is not only on track but will over-achieve its target by about 15 per cent. It calls upon India to revisit its target and make it more ambitious.

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