Nations' Pledges Show Progress But Short of 2-Degree Goal

By Dean Scott

Oct. 30 — Roughly one-quarter of the greenhouse gas emissions cuts nations have pledged toward a global climate agreement hinge on whether developing nations get adequate funding from richer nations, the United Nations said Oct. 30.

The report, a UN tally of pledges 146 countries and the European Union put on the table by Oct. 1, confirms that the aggregate global effort falls well short of keeping global temperatures from rising above 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) from the preindustrial era.

The pledges, which the UN terms Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, “will deliver sizeable emission reductions compared with the pre-2020 period,” according to the report. But global aggregate emission levels in 2025 and 2030 resulting from the INDCs “do not fall within 2 [degrees] C scenarios,” according to the “Synthesis Report on the Aggregate Effect of the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions.”

Just seven countries included nuclear power in their pledges, Christiana Figueres, who heads the UN climate secretariat overseeing the Paris talks, said in releasing the report in Berlin. She said the pledges in aggregate would provide a “significant dent in the growth” of emissions and would act as a “floor” for further global action in the future.

Negotiators hope to include language in the Paris deal for nations to ramp up their actions on emissions every five years or so without reopening the entire agreement to renegotiation (205 ECR 205, 10/23/15).

The global actions are rooted in policies nations are pursuing to shift away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy, to improve land management and to bolster energy efficiency. Specifically, those actions now under way range from U.S. carbon pollution limits for power plants to an expansion in emissions trading from the European Union and China and to a rapid expansion of solar and other renewable energy in India.

Those actions in total could limit the temperature rise to 2.7 degrees Celsius by 2100, still short of the 2 degree C goal, Figueres said. That is “by no means enough but a lot lower than the estimated 4, 5, or more degrees of warming projected by many,” she said, absent the actions countries are now pledging.

Many Offers Not Contingent on Aid

In many cases, developing nations made offers to cut emissions with or without financial and technological assistance from developed countries and then pledged additional cuts if such assistance is provided, according to the report.

“Most of the conditional components relate to the provision of finance, technology or capacity-building support and translate into a percentage increase in the level of effort associated with the related unconditional component” pledged by developing nations, the report said.

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change tallied the pledges to give the nearly 200 nations a snapshot of how the climate accord they hope to agree to at Nov. 30-Dec. 11 negotiations in Paris would ratchet down emissions by 2030, although total emissions are still expected to rise with or without the pledges.

The combined pledges would cut four gigatons of global emissions by 2030 from 2010 levels if implemented. But those actions if taken wouldn't halt the rise in emissions, which totaled 48.1 Gt in 2010 and are projected to climb to 55.2 Gt by 2025 and 56.7 Gt in 2030, according to the UN report.

Pledges Signal ‘Increasing Determination.'

On a positive note, the report said, the countries' pledges signal “an increasing determination of Parties to take action to reduce emissions,” with several countries signaling their “aim to reduce their net emissions to zero in the longer term.”

The pledges also would reduce global average per capita emissions over the next 15 years by as much as 8 percent in 2025 and 9 percent in 2030.

All developed nations have now formally submitted their pledges ahead of the Paris summit, which will serve as the 21st Conference of the Parties to the UN framework convention or COP-21. Three-quarters of developing nations also have submitted INDCs, including all major emitters such as China, India, Brazil, Indonesia and Mexico.

The report provides a snapshot of the aggregate effect of the formal climate submissions received by the UN only as of Oct. 1, covering 119 INDCs submitted by that date from 147 parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, including the European Union, a bloc representing 28 countries. Since that Oct. 1 cut-off date, total submissions to the UN have increased to a total of 128 submissions as of Oct. 30.

The 1992 UN framework convention was the first that required nations to address climate change and is essentially the parent treaty to the international climate agreement nations hope to conclude in Paris in December.

Pledges From Low-Emitting Nations

But the pledges submitted after the Oct. 1 deadline have come from low-emitting developing nations such as Sri Lanka, Niger, Trinidad and Tobago, Afghanistan, Ecuador and Bolivia—and thus are not expected to fundamentally alter the UN's broader findings on the aggregate impact of the submitted INDCs.

One hundred of the parties included a section in their INDCs detailing actions they are taking or will take to address the need for adaptation to climate change impacts, ranging from rising sea levels to increasingly severe weather linked to rising global temperatures.

The UN climate secretariat also plans to publish a summary for policymakers in November—to be titled “Climate Action Now: a Summary for Policymaker”—ahead of the Nov. 30 opening of the two-week Paris talks, according to the UN. That report “will underline the enormous emission reduction potential and multiple economic benefits possible” for climate policies across major sectors, including energy, transportation, buildings and forests, according to the UN.

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

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Greg Henderson at ghenderson@bna.com