Only an “urgent and comprehensive” transformation of sectors and systems of the economy and society can avert the looming climate catastrophe, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) warned in a new report on Thursday.

Inger Andersen, executive director of UNEP, said at the launch of the report that “the window of opportunity for incremental change has passed, and only the head-to-toe transformation of our economies and societies can save us from accelerating climate catastrophe”.

The proximity of catastrophe is due to the fact that the international community remains far short of the 2015 Paris Agreement targets to contain global warming to the agreed maximum of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial (1850-1900) levels.

Andersen said the study “The Closing Window”, on the greenhouse gas emissions gap in 2022, “tells us in cold scientific terms what nature has been telling us throughout the year through devastating floods, storms and unprecedented fires”.

He added that “we must all stop filling our atmosphere with greenhouse gases and act as soon as possible”, after the lost year since the unfulfilled commitments at the Glasgow (UK) summit in 2021.

Progress since the 26th Conference of the Parties (the vast majority of the world’s countries) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has been “woefully insufficient”, UNEP said.

The voluntary Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) proposed for 2022 represent a reduction of just 0.5 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2), equivalent to less than one percent of projected global emissions by 2030.

This lack of progress is leading the world to heat up well above the Paris Agreement target, which calls for a global temperature rise of less than two degrees Celsius this century and less than 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2050.

The report notes that with current commitments, global warming will vary between 2.4 and 2.8 degrees Celsius, and in a best-case scenario, full implementation of the NDCs and additional net-zero emissions commitments point to an increase of only 1.8 degrees Celsius.

While there is hope, this assumption is not credible today, due to the gap between current emissions, short-term NDC targets and long-term net-zero emissions targets, according to UNEP.

The NDCs are estimated to reduce global emissions by five to 10 per cent by 2030, but for global warming to remain at 1.5 degrees Celsius, emissions must be reduced by 45 per cent over the next eight years, and to achieve a maximum rise of two degrees the reduction must be at least 30 per cent.

“Even if we do not meet our 2030 targets, we must strive to get as close as possible to limiting global warming and lay the foundation for a net-zero emissions future,” Andersen said.

That future should “allow for temperature overshoots and deliver many other social and environmental benefits, such as clean air, green jobs and universal energy access,” Andersen said.

Huge emissions reductions imply implementing a large-scale, rapid and systemic transformation in key sectors of the economy and society.

The report will be reforming towards zero emissions in electricity supply – the sector that is making the most progress as the cost of renewable energy is reduced – industry, transport and construction.

In all these sectors, improving and implementing technologies that lead to zero emissions is key.

Food systems, which account for one-third of emissions, can achieve rapid and lasting reductions, according to UNEP.

Such reductions include protecting natural ecosystems, demand-side food shifts, improvements in on-farm food production and decarbonisation of supply chains.

Governments can facilitate transformation by changing subsidy and taxation systems. The private sector can reduce food loss and waste, use renewable energy and develop new foods that reduce carbon emissions.

Citizens can change their lifestyles by consuming food that supports environmental sustainability and reduced carbon emissions.

And the financial system must enable the transformation to a low-carbon economy, which requires investments of at least four to six trillion dollars a year.

The report recalled that, despite their stated intentions, most financial actors have implemented limited action on climate mitigation, due to their short-term interests, conflicting objectives and insufficient recognition of climate risks.

The 27th Conference of the Parties (COP27) on Climate Change will be held in Sharm el Sheikh (Egypt) from 6-18 November this year.