Climate crisis

Earth is headed towards 2.8 degree warming

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) warns that the window to control global warming is closing fast. Its new Emissions Gap Report amounts to a call for the rapid transformation of societies. At current trends, humankind is set to cause an average temperature rise of 2.8 degrees, far above the 1.5 degree threshold spelled out in the Paris Agreement on Climate Change in 2015.
Title of the Emissions Gap Report. Title of the Emissions Gap Report.

The international community is not on track. The nationally determined contributions (NDCs) to mitigating the climate crisis, which sovereign governments had submitted to the UN before this year’s summit in Egypt, will only reduce projected global greenhouse-gas emissions enough to keep global warming just under 2.8 degrees in this century. To fulfil the multilateral agreement, emissions must go down 45 % below   than what currently pledged national policies would deliver.

The report emphasises that incremental changes are not enough. Comprehensive economy-wide transformations are required. The authors state that the global response to the Covid-19 pandemic led to a massive, but short lived reduction in global emissions in 2020. In 2021 they rebounded to 2019 levels.

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are highly uneven across regions. About 55 % of global emissions result from international transport and the top seven emitters, which are China, the EU, India, Indonesia, Brazil, the Russian Federation and the USA (not in that order). According to UNEP, it is the G20 members who are especially far behind in delivering on their climate mitigation commitments.

By early November, 88 sovereign governments have adopted net-zero targets, which basically means they set a timeline by when they will no longer emit GHG which they cannot capture or compensate for, the report states. They account for 79 % of global emissions. Another 19 governments have pledged to adopt such a target. The problem is that things are happening too slowly. Emissions must be phased out faster than promised, according to UNEP.

The UNEP experts point out that change is particularly urgent in four sectors:

  • electricity supply,
  • industry,
  • transport and
  • buildings.

According to UNEP, most progress has been made in the power sector because the costs of renewables technology has declined fast. For building operations and road transport, ­efficient technologies exist too, but must be adopted. New technologies are needed in ship transport and aviation, zero emission technologies need further development. The UNEP reports recommends three strategic approaches:

  • Avoid building new infrastructure that will require fossil-fuel use for many years or even decades.
  • Promote the development of new ­zero-carbon technologies.
  • Apply those technologies.

Moreover, UNEP calls for change in agriculture, which is not only a driver of global warming but also contributes to the dwindling of biodiversity (see Chimezie Anajama on Eco-friendly reforms are indispensable.

Action in the financial sector

According to the authors, the financial system must be geared to promote the massive structural changes they consider to be necessary. They identify six approaches:

  • Financial investors need better information on climate risks if they are to make more environment-friendly decisions. Raising awareness and stronger institutional guidelines can serve that purpose.
  • Carbon pricing can be done with carbon taxes, which are levied on emissions, or cap-and-trade systems, which set a maximum level of emissions subsequently letting companies bid for amount of fossil fuels that correspond to that level. Both give investors incentives to keep emissions low.
  • Financial markets are marked by incomplete asymmetry, risk aversion and herd behaviour. Taxation and regulations can change investor attitudes and influence investors in a positive way.
  • Market incentives matter. Public policies can create new markets for low-carbon technology and encourage innovation through public finance. Multilateral banks can support this approach.
  • Central banks and financial regulators should modify their policies in ways that encourage eco-friendly investments and discourage harmful ones (see Uli Volz on
  • Set up climate clubs and cross-border finance initiatives.

UNEP, 2022: Emissions Gap Report 2022

Suparna Banerjee is a Frankfurt-based political scientist.

Related Articles