UNEP Highlights Link between Emissions and Adaptation Gaps

UNEPFebruary 2014: The UN Environment Programme's (UNEP) Global Environmental Alert Service (GEAS) has published a paper titled ‘Emissions and Adaptation Gaps: Can we bridge the cracks in climate policy?' The paper indicates that the emissions gap (the difference between emissions reductions pledged and those required to keep warming below 2°C) and the adaptation gap (the difference between funding and capacity levels required for adaptation and the amount committed) are both increasing.

According to UNEP, bridging these gaps requires making progress on funding, knowledge, technology, capacity and trust among countries. The paper underlines that as governments work toward a universal climate agreement, staying below 2°C warming requires global emissions peaking before 2020 and sharply declining after 2020. UNEP stresses that achieving this depends on, inter alia, limiting growth in energy demand, improving energy efficiency, increasing renewable energy use, and minimizing emissions from land-use change.

According to the UNEP Emissions Gap Report 2013, “the longer mitigation efforts are postponed, the greater the dependence will be on negative emissions in the second half of the 21st century to keep global temperature increase below 2°C.”

The paper describes that some progress has been made, with global emissions slowing in 2012, reflecting a shift to less fossil-fuel-intensive activities and more renewable energy use and energy savings. However, despite the growth in renewable energy use, 60% of the world's energy production is still based on fossil fuels. In addition, with some countries backpedaling on pledges, UNEP warns that the emissions and adaptation gaps are likely to widen. While developing countries' adaptation needs will cost approximately US$100 billion a year, and could reach US$450 billion, available funds for adaptation total around US$3.9 billion to date.

UNEP outlines the following measures that could help bridge the gaps: adopting strict accounting rules for mitigation action; moving from unconditional to conditional pledges; increasing the scope of current pledges; making additional savings from agriculture and land use changes; adopting sustainable consumption and production (SCP) policies; and enhancing international cooperation on renewable energy, energy efficiency, fossil fuel subsidy reform, methane and other short-lived climate pollutants.

The paper explains that increased research and information can also help bridge the adaptation gap, which can be a challenge to assess. While carbon dioxide and its equivalents provide a common metric for quantifying the emissions gap, a similar metric for quantifying the adaptation gap does not exist. Furthermore, increased funding for adaptation measures, such as restoring coastal ecosystems and strengthening early warning systems, as well as better financial reporting by donors and verification of use of funds by recipients, through, for example, a standardized framework, are also needed. Finally, political will and trust between developed and developing countries are critical.

The paper reiterates that as the chances of remaining within a 2°C warming decreases, necessary adaptation measures and costs increase. Thus, the link between the emissions and adaptation gaps further supports the conclusion that “the benefits of strong, early action on climate change outweigh the costs.”

UNEP GEAS is a mechanism that identifies, selects and communicates early warning information on emerging issues to decision makers on a regular basis. [Publication: Emissions and Adaptation Gaps: Can we bridge the cracks in climate policy?] [Publication: The Emissions Gap Report 2013]