Beyond the emission gap

This policy brief presents insights that can be derived from the gap indicators in the ‘global stocktake’ dynamic web tool. We know that there is a global emissions gap, as current policies on the national level are insufficient to accomplish the objective of the Paris Agreement to keep temperature increase to well below 2 °C. However, a more dynamic and comprehensive presentation of the current gap with the Paris objective is needed, if this gap is to be closed.

Information on individual greenhouse gas emissions on national/regional level provides guidance on how to close the gap

The emission gaps for China, the United States, the European Union and India largely depends on what is considered a fair distribution between countries/regions of the efforts required to stay well below 2 °C global temperature increase. Currently, the main focus of national climate policies is on CO2. Projected non-CO2 emissions that mainly come from agriculture, are strongly mitigated in the second half of this century.

With current national policies and nationally determined contributions (NDCs), the carbon budget related to the 2 °C goal will already be depleted around 2035

Carbon budgets show the cumulative emissions that can still be emitted while staying below 2 °C or 1.5°C temperature increase this century, and are therefore independent of a specific moment in time at which mitigation should be applied. The carbon budget related to the 2 °C  goal is 1,000 GtCO2, and is based on the IPCC AR5 report. These budgets can also be applied at the national level, but this again depends on which effort-sharing approach is used.

Indicators that go beyond greenhouse gas emissions provide insights into how to close the emission gap

Such indicators show the necessary steps, in terms of energy use or investments, and provide additional guidance for the transition towards a low-carbon energy system. Also, synergies related to air pollution and deforestation could strengthen climate policies. To close the emission gap, carbon intensity (CO2/GDP) needs to improve much more rapidly than historical rates, if we are to accomplish the Paris goals, zero-carbon technologies need to develop much faster compared to current policy trends, and low-carbon energy investments need to increase to around 70%, by 2050. Furthermore, air pollution and forest coverage will both benefit significantly if the Paris goals are achieved.

This policy brief is written as part of the CD-LINKS project that explores the complex interplay between climate action and development, from both a global and national level. Results from nine integrated assessment models from various institutes that participated in this project were used in the ‘global stocktake’ tool and this policy brief, among which PBL’s IMAGE model. More details can be found on


Mark Roelfsema and Detlef van Vuuren


Publication title
Beyond the emission gap
Publication date
18 June 2019
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