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Green recovery from pandemic could close gap to meeting 2C warming goal – UN

Peter Byrne

By Emily Beament, PA Environment Correspondent

The world is still on track for temperature rises of more than 3C this century, despite a dip in carbon emissions due to the pandemic, a UN report warns.

But a green recovery from the crisis could cut predicted emissions in 2030 by a quarter and bring the world close to what is needed to curb global warming to 2C.

With even stronger action, countries could still meet their more ambitious goals to limit temperature rises to 1.5C, seen as the threshold beyond which the worst impact of climate change will be felt, the report said.

Under the Paris Agreement, countries committed to limit temperature rises to “well below” 2C above pre-industrial levels, and to pursue efforts to keep them to 1.5C, to reduce the risks and impact of climate change.

But there is a large gap between the action countries have pledged and the emissions cuts needed to meet the goals – and major economies are not even on track to deliver on their promised measures.

The annual UN Environment Programme (UNEP) report, which looks at the gap between necessary emissions cuts and countries’ actions, said emissions could fall by up to 7% in 2020 due to Covid-19 lockdowns.

But that will have little impact on climate change overall, it warned.

Greenhouse gas emissions in 2019 were a record 59.1 billion tonnes, and on current trajectories are likely to be about the same or just a few billion tonnes lower in the wake of the pandemic recovery by 2030.

But a green recovery, which rebuilds economies by supporting new renewable energy, low-carbon transport and industry, large-scale reforestation projects and energy efficient buildings, could cut 25% off emissions by 2030.

Other measures that would need to be prioritised in a green recovery include ending fossil fuel subsidies and not building new coal plants.

That could bring emissions down to 44 billion tonnes in 2030, within the range of what is needed to put the world on track to curb temperature rises to 2C, the report said.

So far action has been limited, but the UN body is urging countries to implement green policies and programmes in the next stage of the recovery from the pandemic.

There are also a growing number of countries committing to cutting their emissions to net zero by mid century, which is necessary to limit global temperature rises to 1.5C, the report finds.

But their national climate plans for action over the next decade – known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs) – under the Paris Agreement are not enough.

The amount of emissions cuts countries need to deliver must be roughly tripled by 2030, compared with the Paris Agreement pledges, to put the world on track for 2C, and increased at least fivefold for 1.5C, the UN warns.

Commitments to cut emissions to net zero by mid century must be backed by new climate plans, which need to be submitted ahead of delayed UN climate talks in Glasgow next year.

These new plans, combined with a green recovery and rapid, stronger action, could help meet the 1.5C goal, which will require emissions to fall by more than half to about 25 billion tonnes in 2030.

Inger Andersen, UNEP’s executive director, said: “The year 2020 is on course to be one of the warmest on record, while wildfires, storms and droughts continue to wreak havoc.

“However, UNEP’s emissions gap report shows that a green pandemic recovery can take a huge slice out of greenhouse gas emissions and help slow climate change.

“I urge governments to back a green recovery in the next stage of Covid-19 fiscal interventions and raise significantly their climate ambitions in 2021.”

The report also warns that shipping and aviation sectors need to combine energy efficiency with a rapid shift away from fossil fuels.

Action is also needed to help companies and individuals change their behaviour, with measures such as replacing short-haul flights with train journeys, incentives and infrastructure such as bike lanes to support cycling, and improving the energy efficiency of housing.