Before the official talks at the UN climate change summit start next month in Paris, each nation was invited to submit a pledge in which it details how it plans to reduce its carbon emissions. The plan is for the world’s leaders to reach a sensible agreement such that the climate might avert warming by more than 2 degrees Celsius by 2100 past pre-industrial levels. The climate is already 0.9 degrees Celsius warmer. More than 155 countries have responded to the call, amounting to 128 Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). Each country outlined the progress it wants to make differently, depending on how many resources they can dispose of and, of course, how serious they take the issue.
Brazil says it will cut emissions by 37% by 2025 from 2005 levels by reducing deforestation and boosting the share of renewable sources in its energy mix. China vowed to peak its emissions, the highest in the world in absolute numbers and on a rapid growth trend for the past decade, around 2030. The U.S. target, announced in China last year, is to reduce emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025, and to make best efforts to reduce by 28%. The world’s third largest emitter, the European Union, isalready locked in a separate in-house agreement destined to reduce emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. Of course, it’s not only about the CO2. One-hundred and ten INDCs included adaptation plans, describing activities and goals in vulnerable sectors like water, agriculture and human health.
As you can notice, each country has different targets. Also, each target took different baselines as reference. Some pledged reduction targets taking 2005 levels as reference, others 1990. Then, some countries – developing countries, in particular – chose to set a date when their emissions will peak.
Luckily, the U.N. released a report summarizing the overall INDC picture and aggregating the emission reduction targets. According to the report, the 155 participating countries collectively sum 90% of all the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. If each of their pledges is respected by the letter, then global average emissions per capita will drop as much as 8% by 2025 and 9% by 2030, the U.N. says.
Is that enough? The analysis suggests that these pledges are likely to lead to less than 3C of global warming over the century, one degree Celsius shy from the declared target. Of course, it’s better than nothing. Actually, a lot better. Per business as usual, the UN estimates the climate might warm by as much as 5C, which would bring floods, droughts, heatwaves, sea level rises and more intense storms of unprecedented intensity and frequency.
“These national climate action plans represent a clear and determined down-payment on a new era of climate ambition from the global community of nations. Governments from all corners of the earth have signalled through their INDCs that they are determined to play their part according to their national circumstances and capabilities,” said Christiana Figueres, executive director of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
She added: “The INDCs have the capability of limiting the forecast temperature rise to around 2.7C by 2100, by no means enough but a lot lower than the estimated four, five, or more degrees of warming projected by many prior to the INDCs.”
Giza Gaspar-Martins, the Angolan diplomat who chairs the LDCs group, said: “Today’s analysis shows the urgent need to address the lack of ambition within the INDCs. Current plans will only slow emissions by a third, which is clearly not enough to keep us within safe limits. Governments must do more in Paris, but the work does not end there. For the INDCs to succeed they must be adjusted before 2020 and reviewed in five year cycles from 2020 to ensure national actions quickly and rapidly progresses, or we all face a grim and uncertain future.”
He added: “The current plans to mitigate emissions do not keep us even within a temperature rise of 2C. However from the LDCs’ perspective, it is far worse than that. For 48 of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable countries, economic development, regional food security and ecosystems are at risk in this 2C ‘safe zone’. So we once again call on the world to grow its ambition for a 1.5C target.”
The graph below summarizes how the world’s governments collectively plant to address their emission reduction targets.
Deploying more renewable energy and energy efficiency measures take the lead – as they should – while CCS (carbon capture and storage) methods are given minimum interest, given they’re highly expensive.
To put things into perspective, you can check how the pledges of the US, Canada, EU and Japan lineup against various baselines.