UN Reports ‘Bleak’ Findings in Recent Emissions Gap Report

By: Maggie St. Jean

Image from Time

The 2019 United Nations Emissions Gap Report[1] released on November 26, 2019 confirmed many of the worst environmental concerns of global climate change are underway. The emissions gap essentially refers to the gap between “what countries have committed to do to limit climate change and what they actually need to do to meet greenhouse gas targets.”[2]


The report comes four years after the Paris Climate Agreement, where countries from across the world agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to avoid and mitigate the worst effects of climate change in the near future.[3] Global greenhouse gas emissions have risen by 1.5 percent every year in the last decade, causing a ripple of devastating effects, such as extreme storms, intense droughts, and widespread food insecurity.[4] Under the Paris Agreement, countries pledged to reduce emissions on individualized time schedules according to their country. However, the Emissions Gap Report finds that even if each country fulfilled its pledges, global temperatures are on track to rise by 3.2 degrees Celsius.[5]


The report itself claims “the summary findings are bleak” and that “deeper and faster cuts are now required.”[6] Essentially, the Report found all the parties to the Paris Agreement have failed to meet their pledges. It also highlights the dire consequences of inaction and states that a dramatic strengthening of emissions reductions goals is needed in 2020.[7] Specifically, countries must increase their ambitions threefold to achieve the well below 2 degrees Celsius reduction goal and more than fivefold to achieve the 1.5 degree Celsius goal.[8]


The current target for the United States is to reduce emissions by 26 percent from 2005 levels by 2025.[9] President Trump’s Administration has not made this goal tenable. Most notably, this summer, the Administration issued the final Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) Rule to repeal and replace the Clean Power Plan.[10]  The Clean Power Plan was meant to reduce the emissions of the of the power sector by over 30 percent.[11] However, it is estimated the new ACE Rule will actually increase emissions from the power sector in 20 states.[12] The Administration has made eliminating federal environmental regulations a priority, with 85 total rollbacks to date[13], making complying with the emissions reduction goals of the international agreement incredibly difficult.


Nonetheless, the Emissions Gap Report included a glimmer of hope as the UN highlighted the encouraging developments that have taken place in the last decade. The Report disscusses the importance of the political focus on the climate crisis growing across the globe. There Report references the multiple protests and voters making it clear that climate change is the number one issue.[14] Action at state and local levels has grown since President Trump’s announcement the U.S. would leave the Paris Agreement.[15] While it is clear there is much work to be done, it is important to recognize the environment successes along the way that continue to propel the movement forwards. Yet, what the report makes clear is there is no longer “any remaining plausible deniability that the current trajectory is not good enough.”[16]

[1] United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Emissions Gap Report 2019, DEW/2263/NA, (Nov. 2019).

[2] Umair Irfan, UN: The World Has Backed Itself Into A Dangerous Corner On Climate Change, Vox.com (Nov. 26, 2019, 12:20pm), https://www.vox.com/2019/11/26/20983626/climate-change-un-emissions-gap-report.

[3] United Nations, The Paris Agreement (2015), https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/english_paris_agreement.pdf.

[4] Somini Sengupta, ‘Bleak’ U.N. Report Finds World Heading to Climate Catastrophe, NYTimes (Nov. 26, 2019 12:32pm), https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/26/climate/greenhouse-gas-emissions-carbon.html.

[5] UNEP, supra note 1 at XII.

[6] UNEP, supra note 1 at XIV.

[7] UNEP, supra note 1 at X.

[8] Id.

[9] UNEP, supra note 1 at 20.

[10] Repeal of the Clean Power Plan; Emission Guidelines for Greenhouse Gas Emissions From Existing Electric Utility Generating Units; Revisions to Emission Guidelines, 84 Fed. Reg. 32,520 (July 8, 2019).

[11] Id.

[12] Dallas Burtraw, et al., 10 Big Little Flaws in EPA’s Affordable Clean Energy Rule 3, Resources for the Future (July 2019), https://media.rff.org/documents/IB_19-05_Burtraw_Keyes_4.pdf.

[13] Nadja Popovich, et al., 85 Environmental Rules Being Rolled Back Under Trump, NYTimes (Sep. 12, 2019), https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/climate/trump-environment-rollbacks.html

[14] UNEP, supra note 1 at XIV; see also Anne Barnard, 1.1 Million Can Skip School For Climate Protest, NYTimes (Sep. 20, 2019), https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/16/nyregion/youth-climate-strike-nyc.html (NY City allows students to skip classes to attend youth climate strikes); see also Samantha Gross, Campaign 2020: What Candidates Are Saying on Climate Change, Brookings (Sep. 13, 2019), https://www.brookings.edu/blog/planetpolicy/2019/09/13/campaign-2020-what-candidates-are-saying-on-climate-change/ (climate change is a top-tier issue in primary season).

[15] Lisa Friedman, Trump Serves Notice to Quit Parris Climate Agreement, NYTimes (Nov. 4, 2019), https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/04/climate/trump-paris-agreement-climate.html.

[16] Sengupta, supra note 3.

One comment

  1. Great summary of the report!

    This really highlights how important it is for us to to take the necessary steps to implement effective climate mitigation policy to achieve emission reductions goals. Even though the United States has pulled out of the Paris Agreement, it is important for State and Local Governments, who have pledged to meet the Paris Agreement standards, to use this report and implement policy that effectuates change. It will be interesting to see their efforts moving forward!

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