Emissions Gap Report 2020


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This eleventh edition of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Emissions Gap Report has been produced in a year where the COVID-19 crisis has dominated the news and policymaking and has caused immense suffering and economic and social disruption worldwide. This economic disruption has briefly slowed – but far from eliminated – the historic and ever-increasing burden of human activity on the Earth’s climate. This burden is observable in the continuing rise in extreme weather events, including wildfires and hurricanes, and in the melting of glaciers and ice at both poles. The year 2020 has set new records – they will not be the last.

As in previous years, this report assesses the gap between estimated future global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions if countries implement their climate mitigation pledges and the global emission levels from least-cost pathways that are aligned with achieving the temperature goals of the Paris Agreement. This difference between “where we are likely to be and where we need to be” is known as the ‘emissions gap’.

The report also examines two areas that are highly relevant for bridging the gap and which have become even more relevant in th e wake of th e C OV ID -19 pand e mic: th e shipping and aviation sectors, where international emissions are not covered by nationally determined contributions (NDCs), and lifestyle change.

Reflecting the unusual circumstances, the 2020 report deviates from its usual approach of exclusively considering consolidated data from previous years as the basis for assessment. To maximize its policy relevance, preliminary assessments of the implications of the pandemic and associated rescue and recovery measures are included throughout the report.

Are we on track to bridging the gap? Absolutely not.

Although 2020 emissions will be lower than in 2019 due to the COVID-19 crisis and associated responses, GHG concentrations in the atmosphere continue to rise, with the immediate reduction in emissions expected to have a negligible long-term impact on climate change. However, the unprecedented scale of COVID-19 economic recovery measures presents the opening for a low-carbon transition that creates the structural changes required for sustained emissions reductions. Seizing this opening will be critical to bridging the emissions gap.

The United Nations Secretary-General is calling on governments to use COVID-19 recovery as an opportunity to create more sustainable, resilient and inclusive societies. Aligned with this, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has stressed that governments could integrate and specify some of their post-COVID-19 recovery plans and policies in their new or updated NDCs and long-term mitigation strategies, both of which countries are requested to submit in 2020.

The most significant and encouraging development in terms of climate policy in 2020 is the growing number of countries that have committed to achieving net-zero emissions goals by around mid-century. These commitments are broadly consistent with the Paris Agreement temperature goal, provided they are achieved globally. The litmus test of these announcements will be the extent to which they are reflected in near-term policy action and in significantly more ambitious NDCs for the period to 2030.

As in previous years, the 2020 Emissions Gap Report has been guided by a distinguished steering committee and prepared by an international team of leading scientists, assessing all available information, including that published in the context of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports, as well as in other recent scientific studies. The assessment process has been transparent and participatory. The assessment methodology and preliminary findings were made available to the governments of the countries specifically mentioned in the report to provide them with the opportunity to comment on the findings.

  • Publisher: United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
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