New medium-term targets and long-term net-zero pledges, ambitious policy initiatives, and technology development are helping to limit future global warming to about 1.8°C.
This is a considerable improvement compared to the previous projection of about 2.7°C made by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC).
However, to reach the 1.5°C Paris Agreement target will require substantial additional and timely efforts from the entire international community, and in particular from the major emitters.
This is the main message highlighted by JRC scientists in their report Global Energy and Climate Outlook (GECO) 2021 published today, which provides an updated assessment of global climate pledges and projections of possible future temperature increases.
This year’s release offers a global view of decarbonisation scenarios as well as a deep dive on G20 countries, which account for around 75% of global GHG emissions since 1990.
For each of the G20 countries, the outlook assesses several emission pathways considering currently implemented policies, the most recent targets and pledges, and more ambitious global action that would put the world on track to keep global warming to 1.5°C.
The GECO 2021 highlights that substantial additional action will be needed if the targets announced recently by several major economies are to be met, and that even greater action will be needed to achieve a 1.5°C target.
The report also reveals potential abatement options across sectors, technologies and countries to bring emissions in line with these targets, and provides an in-depth analysis of global energy and greenhouse gases (GHG) emission trends.
Advancing towards climate neutrality
This year, the GECO 2021 report focuses on climate action spurred by the latest pledges under the Paris Agreement. The new edition takes stock of updates in medium-term nationally determined contributions (NDCs) and long-term net zero emission targets (LTSs) as submitted leading up to and during the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP 26) in November 2021.
The report assesses also how recent announcements of LTSs by major world economies – which include certain net-zero emission targets – might affect the global effort for the low-carbon transition in the coming decades.
The GECO 2021 report shows that recently announced targets for the short term (2030) and long term (2050) would result in a clear departure from historic trends and current policies.
The GECO 2021 analysis shows that if all countries deliver on these newly announced domestic targets (targets whether submitted in official UNFCCC documents or simply announced), the global temperature increase could be limited to 1.8°C by 2100 (50% probability).
This is significantly lower than assessed in previous editions of GECO; in 2019, the outlook calculated a temperature change of 2.7°C under an NDC scenario, with emissions stabilising only by 2035-2040.
The new NDCs and LTSs make emissions peak around 2023, reducing them until 2050 to then stabilise by mid-century, closing more than 80% of the emission gap towards 1.5°C. A common interesting feature behind all scenarios is that all of them show stabilised emissions in the long-term, without any perceptible rebound induced by economic growth. This suggests a genuine decarbonisation of our economic systems, where growth is decoupled from emission increases.
However, substantial further action is needed to limit climate change to 1.5°C by 2100, as stipulated by the Paris Agreement and reaffirmed by the parties to the Paris Agreement at the COP26 in Glasgow.
The 1.5°C temperature target requires global GHG emissions to drop quickly in the next decades and to reach net-zero early in the second half of the century.
Therefore, more ambitious targets are necessary, both in the short term for achieving a stronger decline of emissions towards 2030, as well as in the long term, as some major emitters have not yet embraced a net-zero target or aim for it only after 2050.
In addition to this, strong action is needed for countries to achieve the targets they have already set themselves, as the distance between the current policies and NDC-LTS scenarios demonstrates.
The transition towards a low-carbon economy would initially rely primarily on the power generation sector. While a reduction of coal is the most important change of primary energy use when moving from the current policies to the NDC-LTS scenario, reaching the 1.5°C target would imply a strong reduction of all fossil fuels.
In 2019, more than three quarters (83%) of global energy demand was still met by fossil fuels, despite the significant growth of renewable energy over the previous decade. Fossil fuels represent only 29% of energy supply in the 1.5C-Uniform scenario in 2050.
When aiming for the 1.5°C target, alongside achieving mostly decarbonised power generation, significant effort goes towards improving energy efficiency, advancing electrification and reducing emissions from land use.
Emission reductions are required across the board and the corresponding transition may have repercussions on the sectoral composition of employment. GECO 2021 provides insight into the labour market transition behind low-carbon pathways.
In 2019, the EU announced its objective to become climate neutral by 2050. This target was confirmed under the European Climate Law, alongside a commitment to cut emissions by at least 55% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels (the previous 2030 target was at least -40%). In order to achieve these enhanced objectives, the European Commission proposed the “Fit for 55” legislative package in July 2021.
However, as the EU only represents 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions, the challenge of limiting global warming needs to be addressed on a global level.
Several large emitters like USA, China, and India have recently announced climate change commitments, which bring the world closer to the Paris Agreement target. GECO 2021 aims to reveal the implications of these pledges for emissions, energy systems and labour markets around the world, informing the global stocktake process.
This GECO report is the seventh edition of the GECO series. It contributes to JRC work in the context of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports, which recently called for urgent coordinated global action on the climate crisis as unequivocally caused by human activities.
GECO 2021 web page on the Science Hub
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