UNEP emissions gap report: Damning findings on G20 ambition and post-Covid green finance

UNEP emissions gap report: Damning findings on G20 ambition and post-Covid green finance

Some of the world’s wealthiest nations still have not made net-zero pledges, according to today’s landmark Emissions Gap Report from UNEP, co-authored by Oxford experts. Many of those nations that have pledged to reach net-zero have given few details on how they will do so, and most are not currently on track.

Four Oxford researchers were among the international team of authors assessing global progress on climate change on behalf of UNEP.

One chapter, co-led by Dr Steve Smith, director of Oxford Net Zero, and including Professor Tom Hale, of the Blavatnik School of Government, studies net-zero pledges and whether countries are on track to deliver these promises.

Another chapter, co-led by Oxford researcher Brian O’Callaghan, of Oxford's Global Recovery Observatory, and including economics researcher David Tritsch, investigates what is missing in government responses to COVID-19 and whether government spending is meeting its low-carbon potential.

Dr Smith says, ‘The latest edition of the report sadly shows that the emissions gap remains. Despite growing urgency and the COVID-19 pandemic, countries are still plotting a course to blow past 1.5 degrees. One chink of light is that around 50 countries, together contributing over half of global emissions, have now made clear pledges to go to net-zero. But these must be matched by ambition this decade – they are a motivation for, rather than an alternative to – much faster action now.’

Brian O’Callaghan says, ‘Year after year we’ve heard governments talk the climate talk without walking the green investment walk. In 2021, there are trillions of dollars on the table, and yet again, green industries are getting pennies. The huge sums spent to recover economies from COVID-19 are a once-in-a-generation opportunity to boost low-carbon technologies and industries. In most cases, this opportunity is not being taken.’

Dr Thomas Hale says, ‘Targeting global net-zero by 2050 requires immediate action. There is still a lot to play for by COP26. Countries need to set out concrete plans for 2025 and 2030 that will drive down the emissions curve in this decade.’

Meanwhile, David Tritsch, says, ‘Without a concerted effort to direct investment towards green industries, the climate emergency will continue to loom larger every year. If governments around the world do not heed this wake-up call, the emissions gap is certain to continue growing and emerging markets and developing economies will be left to suffer the consequences first. With governments around the world committing trillions of dollars to rescue and recovery packages, we cannot afford to miss out on the immense potential of green public spending.’

According to Chapter 3, co-led by Dr Smith and Professor Hale, the recent wave of national net-zero pledges is a promising development, but the gap in ambition for the coming decade remains stark. While current pledges of action to 2030 put us on course to 2.7°C warming this century, the addition of these net-zero pledges, if fully implemented, could bring warming down to 2.2°C.

If net-zero is to be a reality and the goals of the Paris Agreement achieved, pledges need to be backed up with near-term targets and more transparent planning. Findings include:

  • Just 12 G20 members have made net-zero pledges at the time of publication.
  • Most of these are not backed up with details such as the activities they cover, detailed delivery plans or the extent to which they rely on carbon offsetting.
  • Four G20 members with net-zero pledges are currently committed to emissions in 2030 that would result in 25-95% greater emissions than their pledges.

The team calls for more transparent and robust net-zero plans, in addition to greater ambition from those currently without net-zero targets. With more net-zero pledges - and policies to implement them - expected in the run up to COP26, the team will be closing monitoring new announcements as part of the Net-Zero Tracker consortium.

In Chapter 5, the team led by Brian O’Callaghan and UNECA’s John-Paul Adam find that most nations have squandered the opportunity to use COVID-19 recovery and rescue spending to create a low carbon economy.

  • Some $16.7 trillion has been spent internationally on pandemic packages, reflecting the highest level of public spending since WW2 A small fraction of the $2.3 trillion of ‘recovery spending’ (some $400 billion) is likely to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • 90% of recovery spending is accounted for by seven countries: South Korea, Spain, Germany, the United Kingdom, China, France, and Japan.

Without increased foreign aid and climate finance, emerging market and developing economies are likely to become the world’s top emitters – while suffering disproportionately from the impacts of climate change.

According to Brian O’Callaghan, ‘This is a particular slap in the face for vulnerable nations who are suffering the worst consequences of climate change. The commitment of advanced economies to deliver $100 billion per year to vulnerable nations by 2020 for climate action was not met, despite spending almost 17 times as much on COVID-19. And the $100 billion commitment was itself woefully insufficient for its task. To add to it all, we remain without a commitment from the highest emitters to cover the loss and damage that they have brought on the world.

‘Gaps in finance are likely to exacerbate gaps in vulnerable nations on climate resilience and mitigation measures – we are calling on advanced economies to provide greater support.’