With global temperatures and deforestation we don’t know what to do. According to Yale360, for more than 40 years, Carlos A. Nobre has studied his nation’s most magnificent natural asset. The asset I love the most; Amazon rainforest. Because of its vital role in the global climate system. And for the better part of a year, Nobre has watched with alarm as his country’s nationalist president, Jair Bolsonaro, has issued full-throated calls for the further development of the Amazon, leading in recent weeks to a huge outbreak of fires from the illegal clearing and burning of the forest. 

In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Nobre, a senior researcher at the University of Saõ Paulo’s Institute for Advanced Studies, talks about an alarming tipping point now bearing down at which a combination of deforestation and climate change would transform much of the Amazon into a savanna ecosystem, with dire effects on the world’s climate system. But Nobre also discusses solutions he says could quickly halt new deforestation in the Amazon, including putting pressure on the global agribusiness firms driving the destruction; launching low-cost regeneration projects on vast tracts of degraded rainforest; and improving soybean yields on croplands already carved out of the forest.

So the UN responded with another pledge.

1. On current unconditional pledges, the world is heading for a 3.2°C temperature rise.

2. Technologies and policy knowledge exist to cut emissions, but transformations must begin now.

3. G20 nations account for 78 per cent of all emissions, but 15 G20 members have not committed to a timeline for net-zero emissions

Geneva, 26 November 2019 – On the eve of a year in which nations are due to strengthen their Paris climate pledges, a new UN Environment Programme (UNEP) report warns that unless global greenhouse gas emissions fall by 7.6 per cent each year between 2020 and 2030, the world will miss the opportunity to get on track towards the 1.5°C temperature goal of the Paris Agreement.

UNEP’s annual Emissions Gap Reportsays that even if all current unconditional commitments under the Paris Agreement are implemented, temperatures are expected to rise by 3.2°C. Thereby bringing even wider-ranging and more destructive climate impacts. Collective ambition must increase more than fivefold over current levels to deliver the cuts needed over the next decade for the 1.5°C goal.

2020 is a critical year for climate action, with the UN climate change conference in Glasgow aiming to determine the future course of efforts to avert crisis, and countries expected to significantly step up their climate commitments.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that going beyond 1.5°C will increase the frequency and intensity of climate impacts.

G20 nations collectively account for 78 per cent of all emissions, but only five G20 members have committed to a long-term zero emissions target.

In the short-term, developed countries will have to reduce their emissions quicker than developing countries, for reasons of fairness and equity. However, all countries will need to contribute more to collective effects. Developing countries can learn from successful efforts in developed countries; they can even leapfrog them and adopt cleaner technologies at a faster rate.

Crucially, the report says all nations must substantially increase ambition in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), as the Paris commitments are known, in 2020 and follow up with policies and strategies to implement them. Solutions are available to make meeting the Paris goals possible, but they are not being deployed fast enough or at a sufficiently large scale.

Each year, the Emissions Gap Report assesses the gap between anticipated emissions in 2030 and levels consistent with the 1.5°C and 2°C targets of the Paris Agreement. The report finds that greenhouse gas emissions have risen 1.5 per cent per year over the last decade. Emissions in 2018, including from land-use changes such as deforestation, hit a new high of 55.3 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent.

To limit temperatures, annual emissions in 2030 need to be 15 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent lower than current unconditional NDCs imply for the 2°C goal; they need to be 32 gigatonnes lower for the 1.5°C goal. On an annual basis, this means cuts in emissions of 7.6 per cent per year from 2020 to 2030 to meet the 1.5°C goal and 2.7 per cent per year for the 2°C goal.

To deliver on these cuts, the levels of ambition in the NDCs must increase at least fivefold for the 1.5°C goal and threefold for the 2°C.

Climate change can still be limited to 1.5°C, the report says. There is increased understanding of the additional benefits of climate action – such as clean air and a boost to the Sustainable Development Goals. There are many ambitious efforts from governments, cities, businesses and investors. Solutions, and the pressure and will to implement them, are abundant.

As it does each year, the report focuses on the potential of selected sectors to deliver emissions cuts. This year it looks at the energy transition and the potential of efficiency in the use of materials, which can go a long way to closing the emissions gap.

John Christensen, Director of UNEP DTU Partnership

“When looking back at the 10 years we have prepared the Emissions Gap Report, it is very disturbing that in spite of the many warnings, global emissions have continued to increase and do not seem to be likely to peak anytime soon.

Source: UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme)