US leads greenhouse gas emissions on a per capita basis, report finds

Source: By Pippa Stevens, CNBC • Posted: Monday, December 2, 2019

Greenhouse gas emissions surged to a record high in 2018 and countries, including the United States, are falling short of their stated emission reduction targets, a new report from the United Nations Environment Programme found.

The report, published on Tuesday, measures the emissions gap, or the difference between what needs to be done to curb greenhouse gas emissions, and what is actually being done. Now in its tenth year of publication, the researchers behind the report found that the gap is as wide as ever.

“The summary findings are bleak,” the report said. “Countries collectively failed to stop the growth in global GHG emissions, meaning that deeper and faster cuts are now required.”

To prevent temperatures rising above 1.5º Celsius — a target set by the Paris Agreement — emissions will need to be reduced by 7.6% annually for the next decade. “Every day we delay, the more extreme, difficult and expensive the cuts become,” the report said.

Overall, China is the world’s largest producer of greenhouse gases, although the United States is highest when measured on a per capita basis.

The U.S. is at least 15% above its emission reduction target outlined in the Paris Climate Agreement, which the country remains a part of for now. In 2017, President Donald Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the agreement, but it does not technically take effect until November 2020.

U.S. carbon emissions did fall by 14% between 2005 and 2017, although recent and looser regulations over things like power plant and vehicle emission standards has led to an uptick over the last few years.

The report outlined ways in which countries can reduce emissions, and said for the United States that could include making the electricity supply 100% carbon free. Implementing policies to make all new buildings and cars clean by 2030 was mentioned as another key area that could have a big impact.

It is instrumental for the United States and the other G20 nations to drive worldwide policy on reducing greenhouse gases since together the members account for 78% of all emissions.

While the authors called the findings “bleak,” they did note some recent positive developments. This includes a greater political focus on carbon emissions, as well as technological advances in areas focused on cost-effective ways to reduce emissions.

Overall, the researchers said that it will take commitment from governments to move the ball forward on emissions reduction.

“Public policy is critical, particularly in the early formative phase of developing new technologies and business models, in terms of regulating standards, data access and privacy, competition, and, above all, infrastructure development, as well as ensuring equitable access,” the report said.

The United Nations’ annual climate conference kicks off next month in Spain.