Current NDC’s would see global emissions peak before 2030, but still fall short of emission reductions needed to achieve Paris Agreement warming limits
This week, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) released their annual report that analysed the updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) ahead of COP27. The verdict: Things are moving ahead, but not quick enough to limit warming to 1.5°C. For starters, since COP26 last year, only 24 countries have submitted updated NDCs, many of which were not much stronger than the previous ones.
“The fact that only 24 new or updated climate plans were submitted since COP 26 is disappointing. Government decisions and actions must reflect the level of urgency, the gravity of the threats we are facing, and the shortness of the time we have remaining to avoid the devastating consequences of runaway climate change,” said Simon Stiell, executive secretary of UN Climate Change.
The NDC Synthesis Report analysed 166 latest NDC submissions, representing 193 nation members of the Paris Agreement. The NDCs represent 94.9% of the total global emissions in 2019 (excluding emissions from land use, land-use change and forestry). Most (90%) of the submissions provide quantified mitigation targets while the remaining parties have included strategies, policies and plans without quantifiable information.
What the NDCs will achieve
According to the synthesis report, the submitted NDCs thus far will lead to global GHG emissions peaking sometime between 2025 and 2030. Current NDCs chart a path that would see total global GHG emissions (without LULUCF) in 2025 at around 53.4 (51.8–55.0) Gt CO2 eq.—53.7% higher than emission levels in 1990, 12.6% higher than levels in 2010 and 1.6% higher than the 52.6 GTCO2 eq emitted in 2019. Thereafter, emission levels are set to fall to around 52.4 (49.1–55.7) GtCO2eq in 2030, marginally lower than levels in 2019.
“The projected total global GHG emission level taking into account full implementation of all latest NDCs (including all conditional elements) implies an even stronger possibility of global emissions peaking before 2030 than estimated in the previous version of this report…However, in order to achieve that peaking, the conditional elements of the NDCs need to be implemented, which depends mostly on access to enhanced financial resources, technology transfer and technical cooperation, and capacity-building support; availability of market-based mechanisms; and absorptive capacity of forests and other ecosystems,” the report stated.
The NDC updates, according to the synthesis report, now chart a path to increase emission reductions by about 3.8% in 2025 and 9.5% in 2030 as compared to the original NDC submissions.
“The downward trend in emissions expected by 2030 shows that nations have made some progress this year,” said Stiell. “But the science is clear and so are our climate goals under the Paris Agreement. We are still nowhere near the scale and pace of emission reductions required to put us on track toward a 1.5 degrees Celsius world. To keep this goal alive, national governments need to strengthen their climate action plans now and implement them in the next eight years.”
Even with the updates, however, the projected reductions in emissions from the current targets fall well short of the prescriptions in the latest IPCC AR6 WG3 report on mitigation.
According to the IPCC’s assessment, to achieve scenarios that limit warming to 1.5°C (with at least 50% likelihood by 2100) with no or limited overshoot, GHG emissions must be reduced by 43% (between 34-60%) by 2030 relative to the 2019 emission level. For scenarios of keeping warming below 2°C (with a probability of at least 67% by 2100), emissions in 2030 would have to be 27% (between 13-45%) lower than in 2019.
Compared to these prescribed reductions, full implementation of all latest NDCs (including all conditional elements) is estimated to lead to a 3.6% (between 0.7–6.6%) emission reduction by 2030 relative to the 2019 level. Implementation of NDCs, excluding conditional elements, on the other hand, would lead to an increase in emissions by 3.1% (0.2-6%) in 2030 compared to 2019 levels.
In terms of the carbon budget, the IPCC estimates that limiting warming to 1.5°C would leave a cumulative budget of 500 GtCO2eq. The NDC synthesis report shows that current plans would see 86% of this budget exhausted by the end of the decade. The remaining 70 GtCO2eq, is equivalent to less than two years of the latest projected total global emissions by 2030. The carbon budget consistent with a likely chance of keeping warming below 2°C is estimated to be 1,150 GtCO2 eq from 2020. Thirty-seven percent of this would likely be used up by 2030 as per the current NDCs. The best estimates of the resultant warming from the current set of planned policies and targets by 2100 is between 2.1-2.9°C.
Also, as per the updated NDCs, most emission reductions are likely to take place between 2030 and 2050, but not before. Longer term targets (which are also subject to greater uncertainties) indicate that total GHG emission levels could be 64% (between 59–69%) lower in 2050 than in 2019. Mid-century annual per capita emissions would be 2.4 (between 2.1–2.7) tCO2eq. To limit warming under 2 °C (with a probability of over 67%), annual per capita emissions are required to be 2.2 (between 1.4–2.9) tCO2eq.
This close comparison signals that estimated long-term per capita emissions inscribed in NDCs are close to being consistent with 2°C warming scenarios. The comparison is not so favourable for limiting warming to 1.5°C (with a probability of at least 50%) and achieving net-zero emissions this century; annual per capita emissions by 2050 need to be two to three times lower at 0.9 (between 0.0–1.6) tCO2eq.
“COP27 will be the world’s watershed moment on climate action,” said Sameh Shoukry, Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs and COP27 President-Designate. “The synthesis report is a testimony to the fact that we are off-track on achieving the Paris Climate Goal and keeping the 1.5 degrees within reach. This is a sobering moment, and we are in a race against time. Several of those who are expected to do more, are far from doing enough, and the consequences of this is affecting lives and livelihoods across the globe. I am conscious that it is and should be a continuum of action until 2030 then 2050, however, these alarming findings merit a transformative response at COP27.”