CEU Faculty Contributing Author of New UNEP Report

CEU Faculty Contributing Author of New UNEP Report

Pathways to 2020 Able to Deliver the Additional 6 to 11 Gigatonne Cuts Needed to Get World onto Safe Track

Cutting emissions by 2020 to a level that could keep 21st century global temperature rise under 2 degrees C is technologically and economically feasible, says a comprehensive new study released in London and Nairobi on 23 November by the UN Environment Program (UNEP). The annual Gap Report, second in UNEP’s series of reports on the topic, brought together 55 scientists and experts from 28 scientific groups across 15 countries. One of the contributing authors was Diana Urge-Vorsatz, professor in Central European University’s Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy and director of CEU’s Center for Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Policy.

Accelerated uptake of renewable energy, fuel switching, and energy-efficiency improvements can deliver a large slice of the necessary cuts. Other measures include improvements by sector, including increased penetration of public transport, more fuel-efficient vehicles, and efficiencies in agriculture and waste management. The report cites aviation and shipping as special but important cases, as these ‘international emissions’ fall outside the Kyoto Protocol. Together they account for about 5 percent of C02 emissions and could account for up to 2.5 gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) annually by 2020.

The scientists examined the newest scientific research on the gap between the pledges that countries have made to cut their greenhouse gas emissions and what will be needed to reach the 2-degree target by 2020. “This report puts into the hands of governments and policymakers vital information about their options if the world is to meet the climate change challenge,” said Achim Steiner, executive director of UNEP and under-secretary general of the UN. “This year, countries will be able to begin their deliberations in Durban, South Africa, with all the key technological and economic scenarios at their fingertips that outline the gap between current ambition and scientific reality alongside the urgent bridges that can be built to span this emissions’ divide.”

The Bridging the Emissions Gap report, issued just days ahead of the UN climate convention negotiations in South Africa and seven months before the Rio+20 summit in Brazil, provides the clearest indicators yet that the world already has the solutions to avert damaging climate change. It presents policymakers with clear ideas on how to bridge the emissions gap by 2020, which—as a result of improved modeling from last year's assessment—is now estimated under the most optimistic scenarios to be 6 GtCO2e versus 5 Gt of GtCO2e. The report also outlines far more pessimistic scenarios if the commitments made by developed countries—including financing amounting to $100 billion a year by 2020—and the intentions of developing countries are not fully realized, resulting in a potential gap of 11 GtCO2e by 2020. Under business-as-usual conditions, the gap could be as large as 12 GtCO2e.

“The annual UNEP Gap Report is a vital contribution to the global effort to address dangerous climate change,” said United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. “It shows that we have much to do, both in terms of ambition and policy, but it also shows that the gap can still be closed if we act now. This is a message of hope and an important call to action.”

Changes to Energy System Key

Bridging the Emissions Gap highlights the need for realistic changes in the energy system by improving energy efficiency and by accelerating the introduction of renewable energies. Specifically, the study reviewed 13 scenarios from nine scientific groups. All the scenarios achieved adequate reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to meet the 2-degree target by 2020 through various combinations of: 

  • Improving energy efficiency  to reduce primary energy production to 11 percent from 2020 business-as-usual models and reduce the amount of energy used per unit of GDP by  1.1 to 2.3 percent each year from 2005 to 2020;
  • Increasing total primary energy from non-fossil sources from 18.5 percent in 2005 to 28 percent in 2020;
  • Increasing total primary energy from biomass from about 10.5 percent in 2005 to 17 percent in 2020;
  • Increasing total primary energy from non-biomass renewable energy (solar, wind, hydroelectricity, etc.) [from X percent in 2005] to 9 percent in 2020; and
  • Reducing non-CO2 emissions by as much as 19 percent relative to business as usual by 2020.

The report's authors note that all the scenarios examined employed different mixes of these options, indicating that there are many pathways to bridging the gap. The report also estimates what these options would cost—an important consideration for policymakers. Globally, the average marginal costs range from $US25 to $US54 per tonne of equivalent carbon dioxide removed, with a median value of $US34 per tonne.

Sector by Sector

The study also examines research on various economic sectors to identify technical opportunities for reducing emissions by 2020. It found potential in these areas:

  • Electricity production: 2.2 to 3.9 GtCO2e per year through more efficient power plants and by introducing renewable energy sources, carbon capture, and storage and fuel shifting.
  • Industry: 1.5 to 4.6 GtCO2e per year through improved energy efficiency, fuel switching, power recovery, materials efficiency, and other measures.
  • Transport (excluding aviation and shipping): 1.4 to 2.0 GtCO2e per year through improved fuel efficiency, adoption of electric drive vehicles, shifting to public transit, and use of low-carbon fuels.
  • Aviation and shipping: 0.3-0.5 GtCO2e per year through improved fuel efficiency, low-carbon fuels, and other measures.
  • Buildings: 1.4 to 2.9 GtCO2e per year by improving the efficiency of heating, cooling, lighting, appliances, and other measures.
  • Forestry: 1.3 to 4.2 GtCO2e per year by reducing deforestation and making changes in forest management that increase above- and below-ground carbon stocks.
  • Agriculture: 1.1 to 4.3 GtCO2e per year through changes in cropland and livestock management practices that reduce non-CO2 emissions and enhance soil carbon.
  • Waste: about 0.8 GtCO2e per year by improving wastewater treatment, waste gas recovery from landfills, and other measures.

Total emissions-reduction potential adds up to about 17 GtCO2e plus/minus 3 GtCO2e with marginal costs of up to $US50 to $US100 per tonne of GtCO2e. This is consistent with the cost estimates from the scenarios cited above. This potential is larger than the estimated emissions gap of 12 GtCO2e under business-as-usual conditions, and as such provides policymakers with clear insights into promising options for remaining below the 2-degree C target.


The report concludes that policymakers could narrow or close the emissions gap by 2020 by:

  • Agreeing to implement their more ambitious emissions-reduction pledges with stricter rules for complying with these pledges;
  • Deciding to target their energy systems, using more non-fossil fuel and renewable energy sources, and making significant improvements in energy efficiency; and
  • Putting in place strong, long-term, sector-specific polices to achieve the full emissions potential of the different economic sectors.


 Copies of the report can be downloaded from http://www.unep.org/publications/ebooks/bridgingemissionsgap/

The full-length version of the press release issued in London and Nairobi on 23 Nov. by UNEP can be found on http://www.unep.org/newscentre/Default.aspx?DocumentID=2659&ArticleID=8955

The first report in the series, “The Emissions Gap Report,” can be downloaded from http://www.unep.org/publications/ebooks/emissionsgapreport/pdfs/The_EMISSIONS_GAP_REPORT.pdf

 The Hungarian translation of this press release can be found here.

About UNEP:

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is the voice for the environment in the UN system. Established in 1972, UNEP's mission is to provide leadership and encourage partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations. UNEP is an advocate, educator, catalyst and facilitator promoting the wise use of the planet's natural assets for sustainable development. It works with many partners, UN entities, international organizations, national governments, non-governmental organizations, business, industry, the media and civil society. UNEP's work involves providing support for: environmental assessment and reporting; legal and institutional strengthening and environmental policy development; sustainable use and management of natural resources; integration of economic development and environmental protection; and promoting public participation in environmental management.