The world is not on track to reach its climate targets. In fact, it is currently so off track that global emissions will have to drop by at least 55 percent to achieve the 1.5°C (2.7°F) goal recommended by the IPCC.
The UN released its annual Emissions Gap Report ahead of the UN climate conference due to take place in Poland next month (December 2-14). The pages of the report contain the most up-to-date assessment of global greenhouse gas emissions combining the latest research collated and assessed by an international team of leading scientists.
One of the most concerning revelations is the fact that in 2017, global carbon dioxide emissions increased for the first time in four years, driven by economic growth and stagnating efforts on the part of governments to cut carbon. According to preliminary estimates, CO2 emissions rose 1.2 percent in 2017, taking the world's annual emissions rate to an all-time high of 53.5 billion tonnes (59 billion tons).
At the very core of the report is the concept of the "emissions gap". That is, essentially, the difference between "where we likely are" and "where we would like to be" in terms of global emissions. As of right now, in November 2018, we can expect to see a temperature rise of 3.2°C (3.7°F) above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century if we continue on our current trajectory – and temperatures will continue to rise above that after 2100.
"The problem, as the science here is telling us, is that we’re not making the change nearly as quickly as we need to," Joyce Msuya, Acting Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, wrote in the report.
"This is of course not new – it’s an almost carbon copy of what we were told last year, and the years before that. But what we do have is yet more compelling science, and something that adds to that provided by the 1.5°C report recently released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change."
In order to meet the targets laid out in the Paris Agreement, the report says, global emissions should peak by 2020. But based on the latest figures, this doesn't look likely anytime before 2030.
The authors warn that if we do not close the emissions gap by 2030, the 1.5°C target will be virtually impossible. What's more, it's likely the 2°C (3.6°F) target will also be out of reach. To achieve the more ambitious target of 1.5°C, as strongly advised by the IPCC, we will have to slash current emissions by 55 percent by 2030.
Right now, only three countries – Brazil, China, and Japan – are on track to meet their goals. A further three – India, Russia, and Turkey – look like they will beat their goals, though two of those, Russia and Turkey, have been criticized for setting emission targets so generously high, they would be hard to exceed. In contrast, the vast majority of the G20, including the US as the world's second largest global emitter, are falling short.
There are, however, some silver linings. While national efforts to curb emissions are wobbling, non-state actors, including cities and civil society organizations, are stepping in. The report mentions that "more than 7,000 cities from 133 countries and 245 regions from 42 countries, along with more than 6,000 companies with at least $36 trillion in revenue, have pledged mitigation action." Though while the numbers are impressive, they say there is "still more room for expansion". The authors also advise financial incentives and investment to accelerate innovation.
"The message is clear: we need to make an almost existential change, the solutions are there, and we have no excuse," Msuya said. "Net zero must become the new mantra."