Emissions Gap Report 2021: The Heat Is On – A World of Climate Promises Not Yet Delivered


This report was published by the United Nations Environment Programme on October 26, 2021. It is the 12th edition of the annual UNEP Emissions Gap Report (EGR), the first of which was published in the year 2011. The report presents an assessment of the gap between the estimated future global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions if countries fulfil their stated targets, and the global emission levels from the ‘least-cost pathways’ for limiting global warming to 2°C below ‘pre-industrial levels’ by 2100.

The 2021 EGR highlights the urgency of establishing effective redressal systems for climate change, keeping in mind the nationally determined contributions (NDCs) data submitted by countries before the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26), held by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2021. The report was prepared by an international team of leading scientists who assessed scientific literature including reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The report says that the NDCs – which are submitted by UNFCCC parties every five years – and targets that countries have set will have limited impact on global emissions. The NDCs updated before COP26 will only result in a 7.5 per cent reduction in projected emissions for the year 2030, whereas a reduction of 30 per cent is required to limit global warming to 2°C in the long term. The report urges nations to implement policies to meet their new commitments, and suggests that they reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas, waste and agricultural sectors. Further, the report highlights the need to adopt nature-based and energy-efficient solutions.

This 112-page report is divided into seven chapters: Introduction (Chapter 1); Trends in global emissions, new pledges for 2030 and G20 status and outlook (Chapter 2), Net-zero emissions targets (Chapter 3); The emissions gap (Chapter 4); Are COVID-19 fiscal recovery measures bridging or extending the emissions gap? (Chapter 5); The role of anthropogenic methane emissions in bridging the emissions gap (Chapter 6); and The role of market mechanisms in bridging the emissions gap (Chapter 7). 


  1. The global fossil carbon dioxide emissions dropped by 5.4 per cent in 2020 due to the pandemic, but they are steadily increasing to pre-Covid levels. The report states that concentrations of GHGs in the atmosphere also continue to rise.

  2. Only about 10 G20 members – Argentina, China, the European Union, India, Japan, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey and the United Kingdom – are on track to achieve their original NDC targets (set as part of the Paris Agreement in 2015) under current policies. The G20 nations are not collectively on track to achieve either their original or new climate targets set for 2030.

  3. The report notes that 52 parties (51 countries and the European Union) of the UNFCCC, which account for more than half of all global emissions, have pledged a net-zero emissions target as stated in a national legislation, policy document or a public announcement by the government or a high-level official. ‘Net-zero emissions’ refers to when the sum of all anthropogenic emissions and removals becomes zero.

  4. According to the report, there is an urgent need for more G20 members to pledge net-zero emissions. All countries should work towards increasing the “robustness” of their net-zero pledges by implementing short-term actions geared towards the target.

  5. Considered collectively, countries worldwide are falling short of meeting their new or updated NDCs and stated pledges with their current policies. In 2030, this ‘implementation gap’ is projected to be three gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent for unconditional NDCs – achievable without international support – and five gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent for conditional NDCs.

  6. Global warming is estimated to be at 2.7°C at the end of the century if all unconditional pledges for the year 2030 are fully implemented by countries. This level would reduce to 2.6°C if all conditional pledges are implemented as well. Moreover, if the net-zero emissions pledges are also fully implemented, global warming levels would fall to around 2.2°C.

  7. After carbon dioxide, methane is the most important GHG in terms of current anthropogenic ‘climate forcing’ – defined as the net change in the energy balance of the Earth system due to an imposed disturbance. Reduction of methane emissions from the fossil fuel, waste, and agriculture sectors can significantly close the emissions gap and reduce global warming in the short term.

  8. The report states that carbon markets – a term commonly used for a “carbon trading system” within which countries may buy or sell units of greenhouse gas emissions so that they meet their national limits on emissions – can help in the reduction of global emissions. For this to succeed, the rules of the trade must be clearly defined, they must ensure that transactions reflect actual reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and they must be supplemented by arrangements to track the progress and efficiency of every country.


    Focus and factoids by Neymat Chadha.


United Nations Environment Programme


United Nations Environment Programme


26 Oct, 2021