The Emissions Gap


In December 2022, the UN released its annual emissions gap report outlining the most up-to-date estimate of the difference between where greenhouse emissions are predicted to be in 2030 and where they need to be to avert the worst impacts of climate change. This year’s report reflected advances in climate modeling and data on land use, land use change, and forestry emissions harmonizing historic differences between data and projected scenarios. Unfortunately, these advances only showed how dire the situation really is. The report included several scenarios including the emission rates of business as usual under current policies (including the Inflation Reduction Act), emission rates if the conditional and unconditional Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) were met, and what amounts of atmospheric carbon we must stay under to keep warming below 1.5 degrees, 1.8 degrees, and 2 degrees under the least cost mitigation.1

At the 26th U.N. Conference of The Parties (COP), the United States committed to cutting its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 50 – 52 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. In August of last year, the Biden administration took an aggressive step toward meeting those goals when the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), a historic piece of climate legislation, was passed. When fully implemented it is projected to bring emissions reductions to about 40% by 2030 and generate a projected 2.7 million jobs, adding $700 billion to the economy, while also avoiding $1.7 trillion in climate damages by 2030.

At this same time, many countries, including the U.S. joined in the Global Methane Pledge. Recognizing the potential for the reduction of methane and other short-lived climate pollutants to lower global temperatures in the near term, the U.S. pledged to aggressively address the emissions of short-lived climate pollutants. While these reductions will be imperative to stay below two degrees of warming, they must be done in conjunction with carbon reductions, not in place of them.

Unfortunately, this target and the others made at COP are expected to take less than one percent off the projected 2030 greenhouse gas emissions while it is projected that we will need a 45% reduction to limit warming to 1.5 degrees.

This overshoot will have serious long-term implications. It is projected that if we reach 2.5 degrees of warming it will result in at least a 5% decrease in GDP per year, and absolute economic losses of 1 billion dollars or more per year, not including the full cost of damages or costs of warming above 2.5 degrees. The IRA is a momentous step in the right direction that will not only start to create a stronger, more resilient economy but also presents an opportunity for cities and states to tap into tax credits and other funding opportunities to incentivize a faster transition. An analysis from America is All In found that if these funds are effectively implemented throughout the country going beyond the 50% reduction is achievable but would require more federal guidance.

Transition to net zero emissions has the potential to add 6.5 million net jobs across the clean energy sectors. If we are going to close the emissions gap, protect our communities, and create long-term economic prosperity for all, there will need to be federal and state-level action to continue this transition.

1Least-cost pathway scenarios identify the least expensive combination of mitigation options to fulfil a specific climate target


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