CEU Professor and 2007 Nobel Prize-winning Team Member Co-Authors U.N. Climate Change Report -- Keeping Average Global Temperature Rise to Below 2 Degrees C Still Doable But Time is Running Out

November 26, 2012

Budapest, November 21, 2012—The Emissions Gap Report, coordinated by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the European Climate Foundation—was released today, five days before the Climate Change Conference of the Parties opens in Doha. Co-authored by CEU Professor Diana Urge-Vorsatz, it shows that greenhouse-gas emission levels are approximately 14% above where they need to be in 2020, according to previous assessment reports. Instead of declining, concentrations of warming gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) are actually increasing in the atmosphere—up around 20% since 2000. The report demonstrates that if nations do not take swift action, emissions are likely to reach 58 gigatonnes (Gt) in eight years’ time—approximately 18% higher than in 2010 (49 Gt). Fifty-five scientists from more than 20 countries contributed to the report.

“It is essential that governments embark on ambitious measures today, otherwise even today’s advanced policies will lock us into a high-warming development path for decades,” said Urge-Vorsatz, professor in CEU’s Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy, director CEU’s Center for Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Policy (3CSEP) and a coordinating lead author in the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. “Many of these measures are actually coming at net societal benefits than costs, but each government needs to find which beneficial policies suit their local circumstances.”

Without swift action, the gap will be bigger than reported in 2010 and 2011 UNEP assessments, partly resulting from projected economic growth in key developing economies. Previous assessment reports have demonstrated that emissions need to be on average approximately 44 Gt or less by 2020 to set the stage for even bigger reductions at a manageable cost. The Emissions Gap Report 2012 points out that even if the most ambitious level of pledges and commitments were implemented by all countries—and under the strictest set of rules—there will be a gap of 8 Gt of CO2 equivalent (the total impact of all warming gases) by 2020.This is 2 Gt higher than estimated in last year’s assessment. Preliminary economic assessments, highlighted in the new report, indicate that inaction will trigger costs likely to be at least 10% to 15% higher after 2020 if the needed emission reductions are postponed into the following decades.

“While governments work to negotiate a new international climate agreement to come into effect in 2020 they urgently need to put their foot firmly on the action pedal by fulfilling financial, technology transfer and other commitments under the U.N. climate convention treaties,” said U.N. Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner. “There are also a wide range of complimentary voluntary measures that can bridge the gap between ambition and reality now rather than later.”

Bridging the Gap

The report identified sectors where the necessary emissions reductions may be possible by 2020. For example, improved energy efficiency in industry could deliver cuts of between 1.5 to 4.6 Gt of C02 equivalent, followed by agriculture at 1.1 to 4.3 Gt, forestry at 1.3 to 4.2 Gt, the power sector at 2.2 to 3.9 Gt, buildings at 1.4 to 2.9 Gt, transportation including shipping and aviation at 1.7 to 2.5 Gt, and the waste sector at about 0.8 Gt.


The report finds that building-sector energy consumption could be reduced by 30% (compared to 2005) by applying mandatory state-of-the-art building codes in all major economies including the U.S., India, China, and the EU.

Regarding land usage and transportation, the report recommends “Avoid, Shift and Improve” polices and measures that encourage improved land planning and alternative personal mobility options such as riding buses, cycling, and walking, along with better use of rail freight and inland waterways.

Combinations of stronger vehicle standards and scrappage schemes for old vehicles can also help. According to the report, approved and proposed standards in seven countries are expected to reduce fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions of new light-duty vehicles by over 50% by 2025 (from 2000 levels). These countries include Australia, China, the Republic of Korea, the U.S., and select EU nations. 

The report also indicates that scaled-up action can provide even larger emission reductions while generating additional benefits such as improved employment conditions. Examples of collective action are the UN-REDD and UN-REDD+ initiatives (United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation). REDD is an effort to create a financial value for the carbon stored in forests, offering incentives for developing countries to reduce emissions from forested lands and invest in low-carbon paths to sustainable development. REDD+ goes beyond deforestation and forest degradation, and includes the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks.

Notes to Editors:

More information on the first and second assessments of the Emissions Gap is available at www.unep.org

UNEP’s Climate Change portal: http://www.unep.org/climatechange/

The European Climate Foundation: http://www.europeanclimate.org/

UNFCCC: www.unfccc.int

  • Press Conference Details:

Date and Time: Wednesday, 21 November 2012, 11:00am (CET time)

You can access the press conference via toll-free dial-in numbers listed below.

UNEP will provide live coverage of the press conference via its Twitter account @UNEP

Dial-in details:

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Global Access Numbers: www.btconferencing.com/globalaccess/?bid=622

If your country is not listed in the Global Access Numbers dial in to the nearest country, picking the number from the International Dial-in column.


Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director (via video link)

Joseph Alcamo, UNEP Chief Scientist

Monica Araya, Lead author, Costa Rica Climate Change Directorate

Niklas Höhne, Lead author Ch. 2, Ecofys


CEU Media Contact:

Colleen Sharkey

Media Relations Manager, International

Central European University

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Tel. + (36-1) 327-3000 extension 2321