Tar sands processing in Alberta, Canada is a huge source of emissions in its own right. Canada is one of the countries putting forward an 'inadequate' target, with no credible plan to deliver it. Photo: Williamson via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND).
Emissions cuts pledges too weak to achieve 2C 'safety limit'
3rd September 2015
Promises made by governments to cut their greenhouse emissions come nowhere near stopping global warming rising above the 2C danger level, writes Alex Kirby. And in many cases the laws and policies needed to deliver them are absent.
If the Paris meeting locks in present climate commitments for 2030, holding warming below 2C could essentially become infeasible, and 1.5C beyond reach.
With less than three months to go before the start of the UN climate change conference in Paris, the world is a long way short of promising cuts in greenhouse gas emissions big enough to deliver a good chance of climate safety.
The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has asked world governments to submit plans - known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) - detailing the emissions cuts they will agree to make.
By 1st September 29 governments had submitted their INDCs to the UN, among them the EU which covers all its member states. These INDCs collectively cover 56 countries, 43% of global population and 65% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
But a new study reveals that the climate targets so far submitted will lead to global emissions far higher than the levels needed to hold warming to below 2C - the internationally-agreed safety limit.
Four research institutes - Climate Analytics, Ecofys, NewClimate Institute and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) - have joined up to form Climate Action Tracker (CAT). They have just released their analysis at climate talks under way in Bonn, Germany, at the start of the last but one week of negotiations before Paris, and they make for dismal reading.
Emissions set to rise far above the 2C pathway
With the INDCs submitted to date, the CAT report projects that total global emissions are on track to be 53-57 GtCO2e in 2025 and 55-59 GtCO2e (gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent) in 2030, levels it describes as "far above the least-cost global pathways consistent with limiting warming below 2°C."
CAT has assessed 15 of the INDCs covering 64.5% of global emissions. Of these it judges seven to be 'inadequate', six as 'medium' and only two as 'sufficient' for reaching the goal of limiting the rise in average global temperatures to within 2C of pre-industrial levels, in order to avert serious climate change.
The CAT analysis shows that to hold global warming below 2C, governments need to significantly strengthen their INDCs and collectively reduce global emissions: "Additional reductions in the order of 12-15 GtO2e by 2025 and of 17-21 GtCO2e by 2030 are needed for global emissions to be consistent with a 2°C pathway."
If the current 2030 INDCs are locked in, CAT says that holding warming below 2C would become almost impracticable, as CO2 emission reduction rates would need to exceed 5% a year after 2030, and would make holding warming below 1.5C virtually impossible. Many climate scientists say the 2C safety limit is too high, and argue for a 1.5C maximum instead.
Bill Hare, a physicist who is co-founder and CEO of Climate Analytics, says: "It is clear that if the Paris meeting locks in present climate commitments for 2030, holding warming below 2C could essentially become infeasible, and 1.5C beyond reach. Given the present level of pledged climate action, commitments should only be made until 2025. The INDCs therefore need to be considerably strengthened for the period 2020-2025."
Only two countries are on target: Ethiopia and Morocco
The seven countries whose INDCs are described as inadequate by CAT are Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and Russia. It says their proposals are not considered to be a fair contribution to limiting warming to 2C - from almost any perspective.
China, the EU, Mexico, Norway, Switzerland and the US are judged 'medium', which the CAT says means they are "within the upper and least ambitious end of what could be considered as fair, and if all countries put forward a similar level of ambition warming would exceed 2°C".
"One would have expected all the new government climate targets combined to put the world on a lower emissions pathway, but they haven't", says Louise Jeffery, a PIK researcher on climate impacts and vulnerabilities. "One contributing factor is the fact that Russia, Canada, and New Zealand's INDCs are inconsistent with their stated long-term (2050) goals."
The INDCs of two African countries, Ethiopia and Morocco, are the only ones assessed by the CAT as being in line with the ambition to limit temperature rise to 2C.
Countries need to step up their targets - and their policies!
In most cases, CAT also found that the policies governments have in place now would not reduce emissions enough even to match their INDCs for 2025. The exceptions are China and the EU, who would have to implement minimal extra policies to meet their targets, and could even exceed them.
"Some countries propose INDCs close to the current trajectory giving confidence that they are met (e.g. EU and China). Others have put forward a target that would be a significant change in trend, but these are not yet supported by any significant existing legislation, e.g. Australia and Canada, raising questions about the likely implementation.
"Yet others are showing progress in policy implementation, continuously moving their future trajectories downwards, but policies are not yet sufficient to meet their (still inadequate) INDCs (e.g. USA). The gap between pledges and policies increases through time, highlighting the need for long-term policy action."
Niklas Höhne, a founding partner of NewClimate Institute, says: "Most governments that have already submitted an INDC need to review their targets in light of the global goal and, in most cases, will need to strengthen them."
INDCs are yet to come from 140 countries. The ten highest emitters yet to submit INDCs are India, Brazil, Iran, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, and Pakistan.
The report: 'How close are INDCs to 2 and 1.5C pathways?'
Alex Kirby writes for Climate News Network.
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