Driven by action-based policies, three new reports emphasize the importance of subnational actors in cutting emissions and combating the worst effects of global climate change
DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – Today, as COP28 begins, the Center for Global Sustainability at the University of Maryland (CGS) released three new reports highlighting how staying within the 1.5°C goal referenced in the Paris Agreement is attainable if global communities pursue an all-of-society approach, tackle methane emissions, and rapidly phase down coal power generation.
Supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies, CGS’ COP28 reports are: All-of-Society Climate pathway: Key Policy Levers for 1.5°C-Aligned Action, State of Global Coal Power 2023, and Ramping up methane emissions reductions in this decade. As an unprecedented delegation of subnational leaders convene for the COP28 Local Climate Action Summit (LCAS), CGS is sharing the top takeaways from each report to help inform ongoing discussions on the ground and highlight the role of subnational governments in mitigating the worst effects of climate change.
All-of-Society Climate Pathway: Key Policy Levers for 1.5°C-Aligned Action
Previous CGS analysis has demonstrated that an all-of-society climate strategy can enable the United States to meet its climate goals. Now, for the first time, CGS has assessed how such action across all countries can similarly catalyze both national and subnational efforts in support of an All-of-Society 1.5°C pathway. The analysis identifies substantial opportunities for partnership between national and subnational actors to close the emissions and implementation gaps highlighted in this year’s Global Stocktake undertaken by the international community. This landmark report found that:
- By turbocharging partnerships and all-of-society action, the world can still keep our global goal of 1.5°C within reach.
- Building on the knowledge of how all-of-society action can accelerate change, the analysis identifies eleven policy levers that can work better when undertaken in partnership. Keeping 1.5°C within reach will require engagement by key countries, working on all greenhouse gasses and sectors, and integrating across all levels (Figure 1).
- The All-of-Society 1.5°C pathway enables an immediate peak of global greenhouse gas emissions and a 32% emissions reduction between 2022 and 2030, followed by reductions reaching net-zero CO2 by 2050.
- Using the 20-year global warming potential (GWP20) metric, 41% of total emissions reductions by 2030 comes from energy system CO2, 6% from land use change CO2, and 53% from non-CO2 gases, illustrating the critical role of methane.
- To achieve the emissions reductions, significant progress needs to be made along all key policy levers by 2030 globally, including, for example, a threefold increase in total solar and wind installed capacity, over half of new passenger car sales from electric vehicles, phasing out solid fuels and phasing down gas consumption in buildings, a 30% reduction in global methane emissions, including more than 75% reduction of energy-related methane, and a 73% reduction in hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) emissions from 2020, and others.
- The power and transportation sectors hold the most potential for subnational actors to drive down emissions, while business actors can lead in the buildings sector. National governments play a key role in setting policy priorities, establishing market trends, and investing in new and emerging technologies to support action across all levels of governance. This leadership is also critical in hard-to-decarbonize sectors, especially when further technological and policy development is needed for progress.
Figure 1. Key policy levers identified to reduce emissions through 2030 and beyond
“By and far the single greatest commitment global governments can take is to actively work with their local and subnational leaders on making climate progress,” said Prof. Nathan Hultman, CGS Director. “The question isn’t whether or not the world needs to act, but rather, how do we organize our actions rapidly enough to achieve success? These policy levers, applied across every major economic sector, can make rapid emissions reductions a reality and not just a distant goal. The policy levers gain substantial leverage from all-of-society partnerships when different governance levels, from the national to state & regional, to the local work together and integrate businesses, communities, and other actors.”
With its emphasis on driving down both carbon dioxide and methane emissions, the State of Global Coal Power 2023 and Global Methane reports further support findings from the All-of-Society 1.5°C pathway study, with an enhanced understanding of where the global community stands on coal and methane emissions reductions.
State of Global Coal Power 2023
Total coal power capacity, both in operation and under development, is one of the most important metrics to calculate progress made in the power sector. In the year of the Global Stocktake, this 2023 review evaluates the international community’s current status on coal reliance through an assessment of its driving factors. It finds that progress toward a 1.5°C-aligned coal transition is insufficient globally and uneven across regions. With recent conflicting trends in rapid renewable deployment and continued coal builds, many countries are struggling with various near-term challenges and competing priorities at the early- to mid-stage of the transition. Key findings reveal that:
- Operating coal power capacity has grown by 9% since the Paris Agreement in 2015 and new coal plants are still being built and planned across 38 countries today, which may further increase total coal capacity in the next few years.
- To close the emissions gap and stay on a 1.5°C-aligned pathway, global coal power generation needs to decline from today by roughly a quarter by 2025 and by nearly 60% by 2030.
- The share of total electricity generation that is produced by coal continues to decrease globally. Although international electricity demand has increased by 21% since 2015, coal power generation has only grown by 11%. In many key regions, coal plants are utilized at lower capacity and are expected to have a different role in the evolving power system, marking positive progress towards achieving emissions reductions goals.
- As one of the key policy levers identified in the All-of-Society 1.5°C pathway report, unabated coal power generation declines by nearly 60% globally and accounts for only 12% of total generation in 2030, compared to 36% in 2022. This can be achieved through a combination of canceling new builds, closing dated plants, and lowering the utilization of remaining coal fleets, depending on specific country circumstances.
- Priorities on energy security and economic recovery have slowed down global progress in coal phaseout – new coal capacity is still being added in Asia, and progress in closing existing old coal plants in the OECD regions is also insufficient. To accelerate the transition, innovative policy and financing mechanisms are needed to break through the near-term challenges at the early-to-mid stage of the energy transition while balancing multiple development needs (from All-of-Society 1.5°C pathway).
“Achieving rapid and meaningful emissions reductions from global coal power generation in this decade is one of the most critical policy levers to get the world back on track to 1.5°C,” said Prof. Ryna Cui, CGS Research Director and lead author of the report. “Large progress on coal power project cancellations and retirements was made since Paris, but has slowed down and is insufficient. Doubling down renewable deployment and using different strategies to reduce coal power generation are key to success.”
Ramping up methane emissions reductions in this decade
Targeted methane emissions reduction is one of the most critical key policy levers identified in the All-of-Society 1.5°C pathway report. Even with emissions peaking and rapid reductions through 2030 under the pathway, avoiding a 1.5°C overshoot is unlikely, and methane is the single most effective opportunity to limit this overshoot. This policy analysis found that rapid cuts to methane emissions is the single biggest tool to slow global warming over the next 12 years, achieving global climate goals, and averting the worst impacts from climate change. Unlike carbon emissions that linger for centuries, methane's 10-year lifespan means that slashing its emissions by 30% by 2030 is critical to limiting global temperature rise over the next 20 years and the equivalent of cutting 10 gigatons of carbon during that decade. This means that the international community can rapidly curb the short-term rate of global temperature warming, and the speed at which temperatures rise matter greatly.
"We know that eliminating methane will be critical to limiting warming and averting the worst impacts of climate change. Yet, so far the benefits of near-term action on methane for limiting near-term warming are often underestimated, while they also contribute to our medium-term climate goals,” said Christoph Bertram, lead author for the report and Associate Research Professor at CGS. “Rapid methane abatement within the next decade is crucial to realize these benefits.”
Other key findings from the analysis include:
- Methane can make up nearly half of the needed emissions progress (10 of 21 gigatons of CO₂ equivalents) until 2030, however if governments fail to cut methane emissions by 30% by 2030, then the world will reach 1.5°C sooner, experience a more prolonged global temperature overshoot, and increase the risk of tipping point disruptions of sea level rise or oceanic temperatures.
- A robust and effective strategy to meet this progressive goal includes a reduction of oil and gas emissions by about 85%, coal methane emissions reductions by at least 50%, and landfill methane emissions reductions by at least 25%.
- These methane-focused mitigation efforts, in particular, can lower peaking temperature by 0.06°C in 2035 —a rise of 0.28°C instead of 0.34°C — compared to a CO2-focused strategy.
- Swift action to reduce methane emissions, largely from the oil and gas sector, can slash global methane emissions by over 120 metric tons in 2030 from 2020 levels and help achieve an ambitious global goal of 30% methane emissions reductions by 2030 from 2020.
The world is at a critical moment for action. While the Global Stocktake highlighted some areas of real and accelerating progress over recent years, it also sounded a clear alarm about the need for more urgent and ambitious climate action. In accordance with the Paris Agreement, the Stocktake calls for countries around the world to spend the next two years assessing their opportunities for action and offer new targets for 2035. Heading into COP28, it is time to take the lessons learned from recent years and apply it to support every country, especially major global economies, to embrace the new opportunities that a rapidly evolving world provides.
CGS attendees at COP28 will include Dr. Nathan Hultman, CGS Director and UMD School of Public Policy Professor; Dr. Ryna Cui, Research Director and Associate Research Professor; Shannon Kennedy, Senior Manager of Strategic Engagement; Dr. Mengye Zhu, Assistant Research Professor; Dr. Jiehong Lou, Assistant Research Professor, and Assistant Research Scholar Zarrar Khan. All CGS participants attending the conference are subject matter experts that have contributed to the studies being shared today.
About the Center for Global Sustainability (CGS)
Through world-leading research and policy engagement, the Center for Global Sustainability at the University of Maryland seeks to change the way that governments, businesses, and people see possibilities for ambitious climate action. Founded in 2016 in response to the need for research and thought leadership, analysis, and engagement to support the achievement of global climate goals, its programs advance understanding to support ambitious national and subnational climate strategies, fossil phase-out, energy innovation, finance, and other priorities in the United States, China, Indonesia, India, Brazil, and other major economies. CGS works with a rich community of collaborators around the world. CGS is housed within the University of Maryland School of Public Policy. Learn more at cgs.umd.edu.