The Paris Agreement sets the goal to limit average global warming to 2ºC and recognises a need for efforts to confine the temperature rise to 1.5ºC. A further global target is “a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century” . That is to ensure net-zero global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions or achieve worldwide “carbon neutrality” by 2050.
The basis of the Paris Agreement is a non-binding bottom-up approach where countries’ policy commitments are nationally determined contributions (NDCs). NDCs present national climate policies as commitments to progressively mitigate GHG emissions, enhance their adaptive capacity to climate change, and address loss and damage caused by extreme climate events. Moreover, many countries have presented additional commitments, in particular, net-zero pledges by 2050 or earlier.
The Paris Agreement has been instrumental in increasing climate mitigation ambitions. The implementation of these commitments has led to lower global GHG emissions than previously projected. New estimates factoring in these commitments suggest that global GHG emissions will peak before 2030 . Further, at COP26, the Glasgow Climate Pact made a substantial contribution to strengthening countries’ implementation capacity by completing the Paris Agreement’s rulebook on market mechanisms and non-market approaches and detailing the requirements for transparent reporting of climate actions.
Moreover, for the first time, countries agreed to phase down unabated coal power and inefficient subsidies for fossil fuels. At least 23 countries made new commitments to phase out coal power (including 5 of the world’s top 20 coal-power users) and 25 countries and public finance institutions committed to ending international public support for the unabated fossil fuel energy sector by the end of 2022 .
However, this is still not enough, and estimates suggest that current climate targets will not achieve the goals set out by the Paris Agreement. Therefore, responding to the climate emergency depends on countries’ substantially increasing their ambitions and ensuring the implementation of those targets through effective climate action.
GHG emission target-setting and operationalisation are at the core of effective climate action. Although climate goals need to be delivered globally, in the context of the Paris Agreement framework, the targets and measures designed to achieve them are set by governments at the national level.
Currently, the Paris Agreement covers 196 countries that together generate more than 94% of global emissions. OECD countries contributed one-third of global emissions in 2019; the Group of 20 (G20) countries contributed more than 70%. Countries covered under the International Programme for Action on Climate (IPAC) (which include, in addition to OECD and G20 countries, those in the process of accession to the OECD) generated around 74% of global emissions in 2019.
The unconditional combined GHG emission reduction target, including LULUCF, for the 51 IPAC countries in 2030 are around 6 000 MtCO2e, a combined percentage reduction of approximately 16% of their net emissions compared to2019. This represents a total global GHG emission reduction of approximately 12%. However, ambition levels vary across countries. In fact, more than one-fifth of IPAC countries do not have commitments to decrease their emissions below their 2010 levels. Figure 2 compares countries’ individual ambitions (in terms of the percentage of GHG emission reductions) and the global expected GHG emission reductions.
An increasing number of countries, sub-national governments and companies, have made net-zero GHG emissions pledges. As of 1 September 2022, net-zero targets have been adopted or proposed by 136 countries and the European Union (Figure 3). These targets cover around 83% of global carbon emissions.
Nevertheless, even if implemented, current policy targets and announced pledges would fall short of the GHG emissions reduction needed to achieve the Paris Agreement targets. With current NDCs, global emissions are still expected to increase by 10.6% by 2030 as compared to 2010 levels. Carbon emissions need to decline by around 43% by 2030 from 2019 levels and reach net zero by 2070 to achieve the 1.5°C target by the end of the century .
Governments must increase efforts considerably to achieve the 2030 climate targets. OECD countries’ net emissions peaked in 2007 and have been gradually falling over the past 12 years. This decrease in emissions by 11% is partly due to a slowdown in economic activity following the 2008 economic crisis but is also thanks to strengthened climate policies and changing energy mix.
Large OECD emitters, such as the United States, the European Union (see Box 2) and Japan, have decreased their gross emissions significantly from 2010 to 2019 by 7%, 14%, and 5%, respectively (see Figure 2). But they are still far from their target emission reductions, which require an additional reduction from 2019 to 2030 of 44% (United States), 38% (European Union) and 34% (Japan). They have introduced important policies to achieve their objectives. For example, the European Union is implementing the “Fit for 55” package; the United States has passed the Inflation Reduction Act; and Japan developed a Beyond Zero Carbon roadmap and the Promotion Act on Global Warming Countermeasures.
In contrast, in many emerging economies, such as Brazil, the People’s Republic of China (hereafter “China”), Indonesia, and India, emissions are still rising and have not yet reached their expected peak (Figure 5). Countries will have to reduce emissions in the next 10‑30 years to achieve the Paris Agreement targets .
The European Union presents a common NDC for the 27 member states. Around 40% of net emissions principally associated with energy-intensive sectors are covered under the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS); other emissions, considered in the effort-sharing regulation (ESR) sectors, have country-specific targets. However, countries have also declared individual net-zero targets that may be more ambitious than the EU-wide commitment of a zero-net target by 2050.
The initial EU NDC, submitted on 6 March 2015, committed to at least 40% domestic (domestic referring to within the EU) GHG emissions reduction by 2030 as compared to its 1990 emissions. The European Council endorsed the strengthened binding EU target of a net domestic emissions reduction of at least 55% by 2030 compared to 1990 on 11 December 2020. This represents a net emissions reduction from 2010 of 46% and from 2020 of 32%. The European Union and its now 27 member states submitted an updated NDC corresponding to the revised target to the UNFCCC on 17 December 2020. In July 2021, the European Commission adopted a series of proposals to revise all relevant policy instruments that have yet to be approved so as to deliver the enhanced target.
The comparison of total emissions across countries does not distinguish their relative contribution, considering the size of the economy or the population. An indicator of relative emission contribution is GHG emissions per capita and GDP intensity. In per capita terms, OECD countries emit far more CO2 than most other world regions: 8.3 tonnes of COe2 were emitted per capita on average in OECD countries in 2019, compared to 4.4 tonnes in the rest of the world . Some high-emitting countries, such as China and India, emit much less in per capita terms than developed countries due to different consumption patterns and income levels.
Nevertheless, emission intensities per capita have decreased since 2007 in most OECD countries, revealing an overall decoupling from economic growth (Figure 6). This is not, however, the case in most emerging economies. GDP emissions intensity is an indicator of the carbonisation of an economy. Here, OECD countries have experienced a decrease. In 2020, emissions intensity was 0.25 tCOe2 per thousand unit of GDP, having declined steadily since 2010 from an estimated 0.33 per thousand unit of GDP. Most emerging economies have experienced decreasing emissions intensity coefficients.
Countries must implement transformative changes in energy and production systems to address key drivers behind long-term emissions. To achieve the Paris Agreement, emerging economies will need to implement a different development path than developed economies.
Most OECD countries are outsourcing the production of carbon-intensive goods to other countries and, thus, increasing global GHG emissions through their import demand. Such outsourcing is a form of carbon leakage, which may undermine environmental and climate policies, if less carbon-efficient techniques and less stringent environmental standards are used in other countries. This has generated increasing pressure for the implementation of carbon border adjustments.
At the heart of the Paris Agreement are individual country GHG emission reduction targets and policies. However, the objective is to reduce emissions globally. Countries may comply with their emissions targets by acquiring carbon-intensive products and services from other countries. Developed country efforts to contribute to global emissions reduction may be ameliorated if emissions are considered from the perspective of final demand.
The carbon footprint of OECD countries, which accounts for all carbon emitted anywhere in the world to satisfy final domestic demand in a specific country or region, is generally higher than emissions from domestic production in OECD countries.
Figure 7 presents data on GHG emissions from the consumption and production-based perspective for both OECD and non-OECD countries. The data suggests that total carbon emissions have been increasing in non-OECD countries even reaching a level above OECD countries in 2007, mainly pushed by the increase in emissions from China. On the other hand, carbon emissions from OECD countries peaked in 2006 and remained fairly constant. However, as can be observed in Figure 7 consumption-based emissions are higher than production-based emissions in OECD countries: carbon-intensive imports from non-OECD countries explains the difference.
The key to GHG emissions reduction in individual countries will be to identify their specific emission drivers. For example, the share of emissions from electricity production is considerably larger in countries such as India and South Africa, due to their reliance on fossil fuels for electricity production, than in France, Switzerland or Ireland. Emissions from human-induced greenhouse gases through fossil-fuel use and land-use change are the proximate cause of climate change, but to achieve their stated climate targets, countries must deal with the substantive drivers of GHG emissions.
Carbon dioxide is the most important greenhouse gas, mainly due to the combustion of fossil fuels and the burning of biomass in electricity and heat production, transport and manufacturing industries and construction (see Figure 8). Other greenhouse gases, such as methane, nitrous oxide, and halocarbons, also contribute to climate change. Human-induced methane is the second-largest cause of climate change today, representing approximately 18% of total emissions. It is produced mainly by agricultural activities and mining activities. Nitrous oxide is produced principally through agriculture and fossil-fuel combustion .
Panel A in Figure 8 presents the principal emissions by gas and sources for the world. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the most emitted gas, with an estimated share of 74% of total GHG emissions, followed by methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O) and fluorinated gases (F-gases). The principal sources of global emissions are energy industries, transport, manufacturing and agriculture, contributing 76% of all GHG emissions (Panel B in Figure 8).
However, specific drivers may vary considerably across countries depending on their energy sources, weather patterns, land use and principal economic sectors.
Other main sources of GHG emissions include manufacturing industries, transport and the residential sector. Agriculture and animal farming are important sources of non-energy emissions, especially in countries such as Ireland, Brazil and New Zealand. Emissions from manufacturing processes generated, for example, in the production of cement, steel, and plastic, are a major concern in those countries specialising in these sectors . Figure 9 presents the principal emission source sectors in selected countries.
Therefore, although globally, the energy sector is the principal driver of GHG emissions reduction, different priorities and approaches may be necessary for specific countries. Figure 10 compares emission reduction targets (in the vertical axis) with sector-specific emissions (horizontal axis). As can be observed from the four diagrams, different countries must focus on different emission sectors to achieve their stated targets. The top-right quadrant of each diagram in Figure 10 identifies countries with an above-median emissions reduction target and an above-median emissions source, indicating sectors with the highest emissions reduction potential. More than half of IPAC countries have at least one sector that has above IPAC’s median percentage share of GHG emissions. In these countries, above-average emission reduction is required at least in one sector relative to other sectors. This implies that countries do not need to reduce emissions equally from all sectors to achieve their climate targets, and therefore priorities and consequently policy choices may vary across countries. As is further discussed in Chapter 3, there are general trends and common drivers, but no one-size-fits-all policy.
Without substantially changing unsustainable consumption and production patterns, it will not be possible to deal with climate change in the long-run. This decade is critical, especially in view of the necessary investment for economic recovery following the COVID-19 crisis.
The drivers of climate change are associated with different activities that have social and economic benefits. These economic activities provide products and services to consumers. Thus, the increase in the production and demand for goods and services, transport and population growth are, ultimately, the indirect and principal drivers that trigger climate change. This is associated with both energy intensity and material use.
Achieving the long-term GHG emission Paris Agreement targets requires decoupling GHG emissions from economic growth and consumption. This involves further reducing energy intensity as well as material consumption.
However, carbon emissions from energy per capita are increasing in non-OECD countries (Figure 11). China has experienced a particularly steep increase in carbon emissions, constituting the main driver of the increase (see Panel B, Figure 11). In fact, from 2017, China’s total CO2 emissions surpassed those of OECD countries. Other emerging economies, for example, India, have also experienced an increase in CO2 emissions, although total CO2 emissions remain far behind those of China. The decrease in GHG intensity is mainly driven by decoupling.
Another factor that is associated with potentially significant environmental impacts, including contributing to roughly half of GHG emissions globally is the extraction and processing of raw materials .Between 1990 and 2017, the global extraction of raw materials more than doubled. This is due to population and economic growth but, above all, a linear economic model in which materials are extracted, processed, used and disposed of after a single-use cycle. In parallel, material demand has shifted away from biomass and materials that can be sustainably sourced to non-renewable, finite materials. This has led to expanding global primary resource extraction, creating new waste flows and contributing to higher emissions and environmental impacts .
At the global level, the rise in the extraction of raw materials is expected to continue and is projected to double again by 2060 from 2017 levels, exacerbating global environmental impact . Further, in the next 15‑20 years, infrastructure will roughly double; in the next 20‑25 years, the world economy will probably double; and in the next 30 years, the urban population will increase globally from 55% in 2018 to 68% in 2050.
These projected trends suggest that the global demand for key materials will increase significantly by 2050. Moreover, the current trend in urbanisation is estimated to increase material consumption by the world’s cities from 40 billion tonnes in 2010 to about 90 billion by 2050 . As a result, the global demand for industrial materials, such as steel, cement, aluminium and plastics, is projected to increase by a factor of two to four, while global food demand is projected to increase by 42%. This will have major implications for natural resource extraction, environmental impacts and climate change
Associated with the trend in material use are GHG emissions that are embedded in production. Over two‑thirds of GHG emissions are generated from the materials necessary to bring products and services to the point of consumption, while less than one-third are associated with energy processes, such as passenger transport, thermal comfort and lighting ;. Furthermore, given the close link between materials and other natural resources, such as land, water, and biodiversity, increasing material use will likely intensify pressures on all environmental systems .
If developing countries replicate the material intensity of Europe and the United States (see Figure 12), the environmental impacts will be enormous. For example, the stock of steel in industrialised countries is typically between 10 to 14 tonnes per capita but only 2 tonnes in non-OECD countries. Similar gaps exist with other materials .
The situation may be further aggravated by the critical materials needed for proposed decarbonisation policies such as production in electric vehicles, solar panels and other products and materials (see chapter 3). Therefore, the choices made today on infrastructure and capital can lock the development path for the 21st century to high emissions or set the global economy on a low-carbon growth path that can be sustainable, inclusive and the basis of a just transition. If in the 21st century, the world’s economic model, material use, waste, transport systems and cities are like that of the 20th century, there is no hope of meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement. The choices made today will be critical to determine the kind of world we will have by the end of the century .
196 Parties out of 197 Parties to the Convention are Parties to the Paris Agreement.
190 members agreed to phase out coal power and to end support for new coal power plants.
Percentage reductions are estimated using the methodology described in the OECD (2022, GETT paper) and data from Climate Watch .
Change from 2010 to 2019 estimated for GHG emissions excluding LULUCF, using data from Climate Watch .