TWN Info Service on Climate Change (Dec20/04)
14 December 2020
Third World Network

Emissions of major developed countries increased between 1990 -2020

Penang, 14 Dec (TWN) – The major developed countries of Western Europe, United States, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada did not manage to reduce their aggregate emissions between 1990 and 2020. This was revealed by the UNFCCC Secretariat during an expert dialogue event held on 27 Nov. 2020.

According to the UNFCCC Secretariat, the aggregate emissions of these countries slightly increased from 13,227.97 MTCO2eq (metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent) in 1990 to 13,331.23 MTCO2eq in 2020, although based on current trends, their emissions are projected to decrease to 12,702.49 MTCO2eq by 2030.

On 26 and 27 Nov 2020, the first meeting of the Structured Expert Dialogue (SED) for the second Periodic Review under the UNFCCC took place virtually as one of the events during the 2020 Climate Dialogues. The meeting was co-facilitated by the SED Co-Facilitators, Dr. Gao Xiang (China) and Dr. Tara Shine (Ireland).

(The Periodic Review takes place every seven years under the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties [COP] to review the:(i) adequacy of the long-term global goal, and the (ii) overall progress …, including a consideration of the implementation of the commitments under the Convention). At COP25, Parties agreed to start the second periodic review [SPR] and to conclude it in 2022. Parties also agreed that the SPR “will not result in a reinterpretation or redefinition of the long-term global goal,” which is to limit “global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels”. The SED is the vehicle through which the Parties can have an exchange of views, information and ideas among themselves and relevant scientific experts on the scientific knowledge and updates on constituent bodies’ activities that are relevant to the SPRs scope.)

During the 2020 Climate Dialogues, the first meeting of the SED focused on presentations from selected experts from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and on presentations from the UNFCCC’s constituted bodies. During the first day of the SED on 26 Nov. 2020, IPCC experts gave presentations on new scientific knowledge in relation to the long-term global goal, scenarios compatible with such goal that were considered in the 2018-2019 IPCC special reports, information and knowledge gaps, and the challenges and opportunities for achieving the long-term global goal (LTGG). (See further details below).

The second day of the SED focused on presentations from various speakers on the activities of the relevant UNFCCC constituted bodies, related to mitigation, adaptation, response measures, climate finance, transparency, capacity building, and technology transfer.

Of particular interest among these was the presentation by Katia Simeonova of the UNFCCC Secretariat, who focused on the progress made by developed countries concerning mitigation, based on data obtained from developed countries’ GHG emissions reports under the Convention.

Among the key findings were that the developed countries (Annex I Parties) on aggregate had achieved 13 percent emissions reductions between 1990 to 2018 and that they are progressing towards achieving their 2020 emission reduction targets but that gaps remain for some countries. In aggregate, Annex I Parties emissions fell only by a little between 1990 and 2020, from 19,279.28 MTCO2eq in 1990 to 17,327.38 MTCO2eq in 2020, and a further projected decrease to 16,939.47 MTCO2eq by 2030.

However, the presentation also highlighted the difference between the GHG emissions of Annex I Parties from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union that are economies in transition (EIT) and those non-EIT Annex I Parties (i.e. those in Western Europe plus the United States, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada). The presentation showed that the non-EIT Annex I Parties have not managed to reduce their aggregate emissions between 1990 and 2020. Instead, these non-EIT Parties’ aggregate emissions slightly increased from 13,227.97 MTCO2eq in 1990 to 13,331.23 MTCO2eq in 2020, although based on current trends, their emissions are then projected to decrease to 12,702.49 MTCO2eq by 2030. The bulk of the combined Annex I Parties’ emission reductions between 1990 and 2020 were due to the fall in emissions of Annex I EIT Parties from 6,006.31 MTCO2eq in 1990 to 3,996.10 MTCOeq in 2020. However, Annex I EIT Parties’ emissions are projected to increase to 4,237.05 MTCO2eq by 2030.

Source: UNFCCC Secretariat, Assessing the overall aggregated effect of steps taken by Parties on mitigation: First meeting of the Structured Expert Dialogues of the Second Periodic Review (27 November 2020), p. 4, at

The Secretariat also said that for both developed and developing countries, there continues to be data and methodological gaps in Parties’ reporting which creates challenges in terms of quantification and assessment of the impact of the mitigation actions at country and aggregated levels. Several Parties posed questions to the UNFCCC Secretariat about the presentation.

India highlighted three key points from the Secretariat’s presentation as follows: First, that Annex I Parties have historically consumed a vastly greater part of the global carbon budget, and noted that non-EIT Annex I Parties’ emissions have not gone down but indeed has risen from 1990 to 2020. Second, it noted that this indicates that real mitigation ambition by Annex I Parties is seriously lacking. Third, it pointed out that over the next ten years, Annex I Parties’ aggregate emissions will go down by only a few percent and stressed that developed countries’ current declarations of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 without putting in place the required policies and measures for doing so rapidly cannot be the basis for judging where the world stands today and called for serious action on mitigation by Annex I countries.

South Africa asked for clarification over the aggregate emissions of non-EIT Annex I Parties that was projected to increase from 1990 to 2020. Belize noted that as regards developed countries’ mitigation actions beyond 2020, the total emissions are projected to decline only by 2.2% between 2020 and 2030.

In response to the questions from Parties, Simeonova pointed out that while it is true that in 2020 the emissions of non-EIT Annex I Parties are slightly above 1990 levels, since 2000 their emissions have been on a downward trend which continues to 2030; while for emissions from EIT Annex I Parties, after a very rapid decrease in the early 1990s as a result of economic transformation, structural changes and other factors which reduced their emissions by almost a factor of two, since 2000 these emissions have been steadily increasing. She pointed out that when these two emissions trends between the non-EIT and EIT Annex I Parties projected to 2030 are aggregated, it leads to only around a 2.2% reduction in annual emissions levels between 2020 and 2030. She also noted that the small projected decrease would also be partly because Annex I Parties have reported quite a large amount of new policies and measures that have not yet been fully implemented, so their impact on emissions has not been fully assessed and hence not shown in future emissions trends going to 2030. She noted that it is difficult to assess whether these new policies and measures which have been reported but not yet fully implemented will result in a dramatic decrease of emissions, but that based on the information available to the Secretariat, the answer will be more likely no than yes.

On the issue of data and methodological gaps, she noted that there are gaps on two levels: national and international. One of the major gaps at the international level is the lack of complete sets of information from developing countries which, although it is improving rapidly, hampers the Secretariat’s ability to aggregate information at the international level for all Parties. At the national level, she identified two methodological and data gaps: GHG inventories and the estimation of impacts from policies and measures. GHG inventory issues are associated mainly with developing countries because they have a shorter history of preparing their GHG emission inventories as compared to developed countries. She noted that while developing countries are catching up, it will still take some time to put in place robust national arrangements especially for data gathering given that many developing countries’ statistical systems are not mature or comprehensive enough to meet the demands for inventory. On the issue of the estimation of the effects of policies and measures, this is a common problem for developed and developing countries. Parties use different methodologies and have different levels of assessing the aggregated impact of policies and measures with different degrees of uncertainty in these assessments.

Presentations by IPCC experts

The first presentation by the IPCC experts on Nov. 26 gave an overview of global warming to date, the GHG emission reduction requirements for the long-term global goal, emission scenarios, and the remaining global carbon budget. Their conclusions highlighted that to meet the LTGG temperature limits, rapid emission reduction to net-zero carbon-dioxide (CO2) is needed as well as deep reductions in non-CO2 greenhouse gases (GHGs), and that meeting the LTGG temperature limit in a scenario where there is an overshooting of the temperature goals by mid-century could cause additional impacts that take decades to many centuries to reverse. They stressed that reaching the ultimate LTGG may well imply achieving global sustainability (including environmental sustainability, social equity, and economic prosperity), which will require a significant transformative change in human systems.

The second presentation by the IPCC experts looked at the mitigation scenarios compatible with the LTGG considered in the IPCC’s 2018-2019 reports (the 1.5C Special Report and the Land Special Report), focusing on net zero and CO2 removal issues. Their conclusion stressed that various mitigation scenarios are compatible with the LTGG and which will have different implications for when net zero CO2 and non-CO2 emissions would be achieved; that the use of CO2 removal (CDR) technologies will play a role for the net zero ambition; and that land-based CDR will have different kinds of impacts depending on the scale of deployment and socioeconomic context.

The third IPCC presentation looked at the information and knowledge gaps addressed in the IPCC’s 2018-2019 special reports about various scenarios to achieve the LTGG and the range of associated impacts. The presentation concluded by stating that there is increasing evidence that climate-related physical changes to ocean and cryosphere have accelerated over recent decades and that land is under increasing pressure, and that risk increases with any additional warming but is also strongly dependent on development choices and on the ability to implement response options early. The experts also stressed that many changes will continue up to 2100 and beyond under all scenarios, meaning that increasing impacts and risk will be unavoidable over the long-term, but that the rate and amount of change (e.g., in sea level) are minimized under low emission scenarios.

The fourth IPCC presentation focused on the challenges and opportunities for achieving the LTGG and concluded that the goal requires attention and prioritization be given to mitigation, adaptation, and financing in a comprehensive and integrated manner; that early and rapid action is important to take advantage of the opportunities that such action provides; that climate response options that balance co-benefits and tradeoffs and that reflect national and local contexts and the differences between developed and developing countries can result in climate-resilient pathways; and that further delay in action will mean increasing risks, decreasing opportunities, and more constrained scope of action.

In their interventions with the experts, many Parties welcomed the presentations and expressed their appreciation for the new scientific knowledge, and some raised questions.

India noted that the scientific inputs and survey of literature provided by the IPCC and its experts do not address the principles of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities (between developed and developing countries) and this was in the presentation. It added that the IPCC Special Reports were not open to issues of the pre-2020 period, focusing its attention only on future mitigation, given that reflecting historical responsibility was not included in the mandates for these special reports. Brazil asked the experts to elaborate on the impact of past historical emissions on the rate of warming and the achievement of the LTGG.

China noted that the IPCC experts were comparing different CDR options, and inquired as to whether the IPCC has done any cost-effectiveness or feasibility assessments of different scenarios that are compatible with LTGG. 

St. Kitts and Nevis asked for clarification as to whether under current trends, the LTGG will be reached between 2030 and 2050 but not likely to be reached before 2030, and how this would affect annual temperatures.

Bangladesh asked about the difference in achieving net zero in 2050 as compared to 2055, as well as on what is the cumulative total carbon budget up to 2100 and annual global carbon budget relevant to 1.5C. Bhutan asked the IPCC experts to elaborate on which of the many mitigation pathways to limit to 1.5C by 2100 presented by the IPCC 1.5C Special Report should be seen as the pathway most compatible with the 1.5C long-term global goal.

Belize also asked for clarification on what would be the 2030 emission levels compatible with no or low overshoot 1.5C pathways.

Panama (speaking for the Independent Association of Latin America and the Caribbean) asked whether all countries should strive through their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) to reach net zero by 2050 as the best way to limit the harmful impacts of exceeding 1.5C; goal, whether forests can be used to compensate for future energy or industrial emissions in light of the range of potential scenarios, technologies, and costs associated with the 1.5C goal; and whether the stringent 1.5C-relevant mitigation pathways with no overshoot set very tight constraints on national mitigation pathways.

Grenada pointed out that without stringent mitigation, sea-level rise (SLR) will be locked in for millennia and will clearly exceed adaptation limits.

Norway commented that in the Land Special Report, there could be trade-offs between CDR technologies and sustainable development and asked how fast should mitigation action be undertaken to be consistent with sustainable development pathways. The EU asked for clarification whether there are 10 or 30 years left in which to achieve net zero to achieve the 1.5C goal.

Japan asked if there more research available relating to the different CDR options. It also asked if there is any update in quantifying adaptation progress.

In their responses, the experts highlighted that the 1.5C Special Report outlines the pathways towards having emissions levels of 25-30 gigatons of CO2 by 2030 consistent with achieving the 1.5C goal with no or limited temperature overshoot. On the use of CDR technologies, some of the experts indicated that different mitigation pathways to achieve sustainability have different levels of reliance on the use of CDR, although the common denominator is that all of the pathways assume the use of CDR. The experts also highlighted that all of the mitigation scenarios assessed by the IPCC assume a rapid reduction of emissions from fossil fuels. Other experts focused their response on the irreversibility of climate change impacts, particularly with SLR, melting of glaciers and icesheets, and warm water coral reef die-offs.

On the quantification of adaptation progress, the experts admitted that it remains a knowledge gap, although the Oceans and Cryosphere Special Report did look into the effectiveness of different adaptation measures in coastal systems and that adaptation reduced but cannot eliminate risk.

Some of the experts provided some estimates of some of these impacts. For example, the costs of direct impacts of extreme events have been estimated at over US$200 billion per year; while there has been a EUR800 billion estimate of the cost of forest rehabilitation due to dieback due to extreme winters and dry summers. These estimates do not provide the full picture because there are also non-economic impacts such as unequal impacts of climate stress on different parts of the population which can contribute to economic losses; there is also damage to cultural heritage which cannot be estimated in economic measures. An expert said that despite limited literature, they tried to estimate the cost of the energy infrastructure investment needed to shift globally from fossil fuels, coming up with US$ 0.7 to 1.5 trillion annually.

The experts pointed out that the 1.5C Special Report indicates that significant emission reductions are needed by 2030 to be on a path compatible with 1.5C, and reductions need to continue thereafter to reach net zero by mid-century, with 25-35 gigatons of CO2 equivalent being the emissions range that would be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5C. They stressed that if current emissions levels and trends continue, the world will be at 1.5C between 2030 to 2052, which means that emissions should decline to net zero by 2050 to have a 1.5C world by 2100. They stressed that the next 10 years were critical for reducing emissions.

On the past emissions’ impact on future warming, the experts noted that their best estimate is that global warming is due to past human influence, and if emissions were to be reduced to zero immediately, any additional warming beyond what has already occurred would likely be less than 0.5C within the next 2 or 3 decades, with high confidence, and total warming would be less than 1C on a century timescale. This slowdown in global warming in a scenario of zero emissions immediately would be due to the effects of the opposing forces of climate drivers and the short-lived climate forces and GHGs. Hence, future warming will largely be determined by future emissions. The experts also stated that CO2 and non-CO2 emissions play key roles – to have any prospect of success to limiting global warming to 1.5C or below 2C, CO2 has to go to net zero and non-CO2 emissions have to be reduced substantially.

Finally, the experts also pointed out that there have been advancements in terms of the state of scientific climate knowledge after the end of the first Periodic Review in 2015, particularly for the quantified benchmarks for 2030 and 2050 and where emissions should be going for limiting global warming to different temperature levels. They pointed out that the 1.5C Special Report made it quite clear that action is needed in all sectors, focus on all GHGs; that there are several options available for doing so; and that how these would be selected and implemented would be context-specific and varies from country to country.  They also stressed the importance of climate literacy education and training as key enablers for climate action, and of transparency and the sharing of information.