The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is the leading global environmental authority that sets the global environmental agenda and serves as an advocate for the global environment.

The climate emergency is interlinked with numerous crises across continents. It is complex but also offers opportunities for solutions that can help create jobs, improve livelihoods and reduce risk of new diseases, as the world looks towards a green recovery from COVID-19. In the nine briefs below, UNEP outlines the facts, data and science on pressing issues related to the climate emergency, and how UNEP is working to address these challenges.

Buildings and Construction:

The buildings and construction sector is not on track. Reaching the committed targets of the Paris Agreement will mean reducing energy demand, decarbonizing the power sector and reducing lifecycle carbon emissions. While this is extensive, it will also create jobs, improve livability and reduce operating costs.

Closing the gap:

While the world struggles to address the climate emergency, global greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise and average global temperature is now 1.2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times. Even fully meeting the commitments set out in the Paris Agreement would still increase temperatures to at least 3 degrees Celsius by 2100. To close the gap, annual emissions must be cut to 25 GtCO2e for reaching the 1.5 degrees Celsius target – and to 40 GtCO2e for reaching the 2-degree target. The sooner this happens, the lower the cost will be. Bold leadership is needed.

Cooling and Climate Change

Cooling is an important component of modern life and economies. Refrigeration prolongs shelf life, safety and quality of everything from food to vaccines, and precise cooling conditions are essential for high-tech manufacturing, research, and data centres. At the moment, demand for cooling is driving up emissions and pollution, while innovation is unlocking benefits. The world will need to expand cooling access – while enforcing energy-efficiency, low-carbon energy and phasing out harmful refrigerants.


30 per cent of emissions from industry and fossil fuels are soaked up by forests and woodlands. Yet every year the world loses 10 million hectares of forest. Deforestation and forest degradation accounts for 11 per cent of carbon emissions. The Green Gigaton Challenge catalyzes public and private funds to combat deforestation and thereby cut annual emissions by 1 gigaton by 2025.

Food waste:

931 million tonnes of food – or 17 per cent of all food – end up in the trash without being eaten. From landfills it contributes to global warming while straining local government funds. COVID-19 has impacted our food consumption and a ‘built back better’-approach could lock in positive food behaviors and open up opportunities for circular economies.

Green Recovery

More than a year since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the global economy is at a tipping point. While governments have responded swiftly, recovery spending has so far missed the opportunity to accelerate action on the climate, biodiversity, and pollution crises. A green recovery would enable countries to build back better while driving economic growth and job creation.

Methane Emissions

25 per cent of the warming we are experiencing today comes from methane. The oil and gas sector are one of the largest sources of anthropogenic methane. Low-cost emissions reductions across the industry could provide up to 15 per cent of the emissions cuts required to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. Action on methane is increasing among stakeholders around the world.

Nature for Climate Action

One-third of the mitigation efforts needed in the next decade could be delivered by conserving and restoring nature. Conserving and restoring natural spaces, both on land and in the water, is essential for limiting carbon emissions and adapting to the climate emergency. It would also improve rural livelihoods, build resilience and support COVID-19 recovery. Nature-based solutions offer cost-effective ways to tackle the triple planetary crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution.

Transforming food systems:

UNEP proposes a global initiative to kick-start a carbon neutral and nature-positive agriculture and food sector. It would reduce emissions from the food sector, store carbon in plants and soil, and make farmers more resilient by adapting food systems to changing climate conditions. The initiative would also benefit biodiversity, the availability of freshwater and the conditions of coastal waters by reducing runoff nutrients.

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