The Emissions Gap Report 2013

The emissions gap in 2020 is the difference between
emission levels in 2020 consistent with meeting climate
targets, and levels expected in that year if country pledges
and commitments are met. As it becomes less and less
likely that the emissions gap will be closed by 2020, the
world will have to rely on more difficult, costlier and
riskier means after 2020 of keeping the global average
temperature increase below 2° C. If the emissions gap is
not closed, or significantly narrowed, by 2020, the door to
many options limiting the temperature increase to 1.5° C at
the end of this century will be closed.
Article 2 of the United Nations Framework Convention
on Climate Change (‘Climate Convention’) declares that
its “ultimate objective” is to “[stabilize] greenhouse gas
concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would
prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the
climate system”. The parties to the Climate Convention have
translated this objective into an important, concrete target
for limiting the increase in global average temperature to
2° C, compared to its pre-industrial levels. With the aim
of meeting this target, many of the parties have made
emission reduction pledges, while others have committed to
reductions under the recent extension of the Kyoto Protocol.
Since 2010, the United Nations Environment Programme
has facilitated an annual independent analysis of those
pledges and commitments, to assess whether they are
consistent with a least-cost approach to keep global average
warming below 2° C 1. This report confirms and strengthens
the conclusions of the three previous analyses that current
pledges and commitments fall short of that goal. It further
says that, as emissions of greenhouse gases continue to
rise rather than decline, it becomes less and less likely that
emissions will be low enough by 2020 to be on a least-cost
pathway towards meeting the 2° C target2.
As a result, after 2020, the world will have to rely on more
difficult, costlier and riskier means of meeting the target
– the further from the least-cost level in 2020, the higher
these costs and the greater the risks will be. If the gap is not
closed or significantly narrowed by 2020, the door to many
options to limit temperature increase to 1.5° C at the end of
this century will be closed, further increasing the need to
rely on accelerated energy-efficiency increases and biomass
with carbon capture and storage for reaching the target.
1. What are current global emissions?
Current global greenhouse gas emission levels are
considerably higher than the levels in 2020 that are in
line with meeting the 1.5° C or 2° C targets, and are still
increasing. In 2010, in absolute levels, developing countries
accounted for about 60 percent of global greenhouse gas
The most recent estimates of global greenhouse gas
emissions are for 2010 and amount to 50.1 gigatonnes of
carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) per year (range: 45.6–
54.6 GtCO2e per year). This is already 14 percent higher than
the median estimate of the emission level in 2020 with a
likely chance of achieving the least cost pathway towards
meeting the 2° C target (44 GtCO2e per year)3. With regards
to emissions in 2010, the modelling groups report a median
value of 48.8 GtCO2e, which is within the uncertainty range
cited above. For consistency with emission scenarios, the
figure of 48.8 GtCO2e per year is used in the calculation of
the pledge case scenarios.
Relative contributions to global emissions from developing
and developed countries changed little from 1990 to 1999.
However, the balance changed significantly between 2000
and 2010 – the developed country share decreased from
51.8 percent to 40.9 percent, whereas developing country
emissions increased from 48.2 percent to 59.1 percent.

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