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The climate emergency

18 August 2021

We are at a tipping point when it comes to our climate. It is estimated that a 1.5°C rise in the global average temperature above pre-industrial levels will heavily impact the planet, our way of life, and the lives of future generations.

By 2100, rising sea levels would displace 680 million people that live in low-lying coastal zones1. In 2100, the cost to the world economy would be $54 trillion, rising to $69 trillion for a 2°C rise2.

680 million

The number of people displaced
by rising sea levels by 2100

Targets, projections and pledges

It seems that current efforts are having little effect, despite 195 countries signing the 2015 UN Paris Agreement and committing to reduce emissions in order to limit the rise in global temperature to 1.5°C by 2100. Current emissions are estimated to be leading us to an increase of 3°C3.

A course correction is needed to limit the rise, and this will require new pledges from around the world. At the heart of the Paris Agreement are Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) which state what action different countries must take in order to limit temperature increase. These differ between countries, with an understanding that developing countries will see a peak in their emissions at a later date than other countries. The 2018 UN report found that current projections

suggest that by following the NDCs currently set out, the world is likely to overshoot it’s 2030 emissions target by 29-32 billion tonnes of CO2.

The impact of Covid-19 means countries have an opportunity to re-establish their NDCs and make additional commitments in order to reduce emissions.

Where do emissions come from?

In order to reduce emissions, it is important to understand where they come from. The extraction, transport and processing of materials are responsible for 70% of all greenhouse gases4.

Mobility has the largest emissions footprint at 17.1 billion tonnes. The second largest footprint comes from housing at 13.5 billion tonnes. The production and provision of food, fibre and the clearing of plants for the expansion of urban centres meanwhile contributes 10 billion tonnes of emissions.

The remaining 30% of global emissions are caused by communication, services, consumables and healthcare. Consumables are related with the production of consumer electronics, clothing, personal health products. Communication (mostly for infrastructure, devices and data storage) accounts for 3.5 billion tonnes. Healthcare meanwhile has the smallest footprint of societal needs and wants, with a footprint of 3 billion tonnes, mostly generated for hospital buildings, healthcare equipment and pharmaceuticals.


The proportion of greenhouse gases
from the extraction, transport and
processing of materials

  1. The Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate by the IPCC.
  2. Protecting our capital by CDP and C40 Cities.
  3. UNEP, Emissions Gap Report 2018. 
  4. The Circularity Gap Report 2021 by Circle Economy.