UN: Carbon Pledges One-Third of What's Needed

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By Dean Scott

Sept. 16 — Carbon emissions cuts now on the table ahead of the end-of-year Paris climate summit provide only about one-third of what would be needed to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius in the decades ahead, the top UN climate official said Sept. 16.

Pledges from some 60 parties—including top emitters such as the U.S., the European Union and China—will trim a total of 5 gigatons “from where we would have been without them” by 2030, a “marked improvement” from a business-as-usual trajectory without any action, said Christiana Figueres, who oversees the talks as executive director of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

“But we have to be very clear that if we want to be on a 2-degree pathway by 2030, we would have to reduce [emissions] 15 gigatons,” Figueres said on a press call held by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The UN is to report on the aggregate impact of all pledged reductions on the table in an October report ahead of the Oct. 19-23 climate talks in Bonn, Germany, where negotiators hope to ready the text for two final weeks of high-level talks in Paris that begin Nov. 30.

The pledges thus far from developed and developing nations amount to “movement in the right direction,” Figueres said. “But it does not get us to the 2-degree pathway.”

To address the shortfall, the Paris accord could include provisions allowing nations to ratchet down their emissions further in future years without reopening the entire agreement, Figueres said.

Movement in the Right Direction?

The U.S. and China jointly unveiled their pledges in November 2014, with China vowing to peak its carbon emissions by 2030 if not sooner. The U.S. vowed to cut its emissions from 26 percent to 28 percent by 2025 from 2005 levels.

Both offers were meant to spur momentum toward getting a global climate deal signed in Paris.

There are still pledges to come from many developing nations responsible for significant emissions, notably India, Brazil, South Africa and Indonesia.

Keeping global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels has been a goal for the climate negotiations dating to the 2009 Copenhagen summit. Negotiators hope to include that and perhaps some sort of long-term energy-related goal “decoupling” economic growth from carbon emissions—aspiring to net zero emissions by 2050, for example, or calling for a “near” or “complete” phaseout of fossil fuels by mid-century—when the Paris negotiations conclude in December).

Pledges Would Lead to Decoupling

The pledges now on the table would “lead us to decoupling over time but not overnight,” Figueres said. But negotiators “will be putting in place in Paris a long-term effort to increase both national and global effort over time until we are on the 2-degree pathway,” Figueres added.

Without massive global action to cut emissions, climate scientists say, temperatures are projected to soar past the 2-degree C limit in about three decades.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dean Scott in Washington at dscott@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com