G20 countries projected to miss 1.5°C Paris target by wide margin: report

G20 countries have lowered emissions, but funding to fossil fuels risks reversing this trend [JJ Merelo / Flickr]

The G20 will miss the 1.5°C warming target set out in the Paris Agreement, according to the Climate Transparency report published on Wednesday (18 November).

The report predicts that climate pledges and targets will lead to 2.7°C warming by the end of the century, 0.1% less than 2018, but well above the Paris goal of 1.5°C warming.

Recent climate pledges by China, Japan, South Korea and the European Union would take this number down to 2.3-2.4°C and a further reduction of 0.1°C is expected if America becomes carbon neutral by 2050.

“The implementation of current targets will lead to a 2.7°C temperature rise by the end of the century. There is a substantial gap. The question is how do we close that gap and how do we move towards 1.5°C,” said Deborah Ramalope, team leader for policy analysis at Climate Analytics.

Due to the pandemic, the report predicts that energy-related CO2 emissions from G20 countries will be 7.5% lower by the end of 2020 compared with 2019, but these reductions could be reversed by fossil fuel funding in recovery packages.

“What we’ve seen is that G20 governments risk inverting any progress made so far if the recovery continues to be mostly fossil-orientated,” said Angela Picciariello, senior research officer at the Overseas Development Institute, a think tank.

In 2019, G20 countries spent $130bn on fossil fuel subsidies. That number, which does not include the UK, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, is set to increase to $233bn, according to projections, as countries pour money into economic recovery plans.

At least 19 out of the G20 countries have chosen to provide financial support to domestic oil, coal or gas sectors. 14 have bailed out national airline companies without climate conditions and only four provided more money to green sectors than emission-intensive industries.

The EU has dedicated 30% of the EU’s €1.8 trillion budget and recovery plan for 2021-2027 to the green transition, although some money may be used for fossil fuels.

“The recovery packages can solve the climate crisis or make it worse,” said Dr. Charlene Watson of the Overseas Development Institute. “Some G20 members like the EU, France or Germany, are setting mostly a good example for building more resilient economies whilst shielding themselves against the accelerating climate impacts. Others direct too much support to fossil fuels, putting at risk positive recent developments,” she added.

Fossil fuels still make up 81.5% of primary energy globally and consumption is growing in oil and gas by 3% and 1% respectively.

Coal, which must be phased out by 2040 to meet the Paris goals, declined by 2%, but only five G20 members have phase out targets and countries are shifting from coal to oil and gas rather than renewables.

The share of renewable energy in power generation increased in all but one of the G20 countries and now makes up 27% of power generation in the group, but none of them have renewable targets in line with 1.5°C warming.

EU-28 picture

Europe, including the UK, is currently not on track to meet its fair share of 1.5°C warming, although greenhouse gas emissions per capita have reduced over the last decade and are ahead of the G20’s 2017 average.

Existing policies adopted in EU member states would result in reductions of around 37% below 1990 levels, increasing to 46-48% if the EU’s energy and efficiency goals are met, according to Ramalope.

That would be short of the Commission’s proposed 55% and Parliament’s 60% reduction.

Fossil fuels currently make up 70% of the EU’s energy mix, a share that must be slashed by 67% to meet the bloc’s Paris goals for 2030.

The EU currently targets a 32% share of renewable in energy by 2030, although this number is expected to rise to meet new emissions reduction goals.

To meet its 2030 objective, the EU needs to increase building sector renovation from its current rate of 1% to at least 3.5%, as well as developing green hydrogen to decarbonise intensive industries, according to the report.

Coal-reliant countries, like Poland, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Romania, also need to adopt a phase out.

Many of these countries see natural gas as a stepping stone towards renewables, but the report warns that the EU risks being locked into using natural gas, which has increased by 12% since 2019.

The race to zero

G20 countries are not immune to the impacts of climate change, with the report showing that 220,000 lives and $2.6 trillion were lost to extreme weather events, with these only set to grow as global warming increases.

The report finds that the momentum behind tougher climate targets amongst the world’s largest emitters is growing, but that short-term policy framework and investments are not yet consistent with long-term plans.

China, South Africa, Japan and South Korea have all joined the race to become carbon neutral by around mid-century, with China aiming for 2060.

The inclusion of these manufacturing-heavy countries is important because it will drive innovation into green production of steel, cement and chemicals, as well as energy production, according to Thomas Spencer from the Energy and Resources Institute in new Dehli.

“These three countries are all industrial powerhouses. Together just these three countries account for almost a third of the total global production of industrial value added. For these three countries to achieve net zero targets, essentially they need also to decarbonise their industrial sectors,” he said.

In the US, President-elect Joe Biden has a net zero goal by 2050 for America, although the finer details are yet to be announced.

With more net zero pledges coming in, the focus is now shifting away from ambition into how to make concrete commitments and transformation, said Spencer who insisted on innovation to reach net zero.

“We can go quite a long way with existing technologies. We can almost decarbonise power. We can do a lot in the transport sector with light duty electrification and public transport. We can do a lot with energy efficiency. Beyond that, beyond 60-70% emissions reductions, what we need is innovations,” Spencer said.

(Edited by Frédéric Simon)

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