UNFCCC: National Climate Plans ‘Down Payment on a New Era’

The sun shines over icy Shishmaref Lagoon, Alaska, where the rising seas are washing homes away. (Photo by Angela Alston)


BONN, Germany, October 30, 2015 (ENS) – Climate change reduction pledges filed by 147 governments with the UN’s climate agency will go a long way towards limiting global warming, but the total does not meet the agreed goal of keeping it below 2 degrees Celsius, the United Nations said today.

A report issued today by the secretariat of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC, in Bonn assesses the collective impact of the national climate action plans, called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions or INDCs.

INDCs will form the basis of the agreement set to be reached at the 21st Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC, or COP21, to be held in Paris for 12 days, starting November 30.

Said UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres, “These INDCs – or national climate action plans – represent a clear and determined down payment on a new era of climate ambition from the global community of nations.”

Christina Figueres of Costa Rica is Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (Photo by Rick Bajornas courtesy UN)

Number crunching by the UNFCCC shows that the INDCs will bring global average emissions per capita down by as much as eight percent by 2025 and nine percent by 2030.

“The INDCs have the capability of limiting the forecast temperature rise to around 2.7 degrees Celsius 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,” said Figueres.

The UNFCCC report captures the overall impact of national climate plans covering 146 countries as of October 1.

Included are 119 separate INDCs from 147 Parties to the UNFCCC, considering the European Union as a single Party representing 28 countries.

During October more INDCs have been submitted, and the UNFCC says submissions will continue.

Meanwhile, the 146 plans include all developed nations and three-quarters of developing countries under the UNFCCC, covering 86 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. That’s almost four times the level of the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, the world’s first international emission reduction treaty.

“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,” Figueres said.

If countries fully implement their INDCs, these plans together will begin to make a dent in the growth of greenhouse gas emissions, she said.

The sun shines over icy Shishmaref Lagoon, Alaska, where the rising seas are washing homes away. (Photo by Angela Alston)

“As a floor they provide a foundation upon which ever higher ambition can be built. I am confident that these INDCs are not the final word in what countries are ready to do and achieve over time – the journey to a climate-safe future is underway,” Figueres said.

Reaction from some environmentalists was cautiously hopeful.

In Washington, DC, Jennifer Morgan, global director of the nonprofit World Resources Institute Climate Program, said the report shows a “higher level of cooperation on climate change.”

“We are already seeing significant progress catalyzed by the Paris negotiations. All countries’ submissions are stronger now than they were before,” said Morgan.

“These plans point us to a better world with stronger economies, more renewable energy, more livable cities, healthier forests, and more resilient communities,” she said. “The Paris agreement has not yet been sealed, but is already raising our sights about what’s possible.”

In a joint statement, the U.S.-based groups World Wildlife Fund, WWF, Natural Resource Defense Council, NRDC, Oxfam America and the Union of Concerned Scientists noted the “unprecedented and growing momentum towards the Paris climate change negotiations” and urged “a scaling up of ambition to address the gap that remains.”

They calculate that the targets on the table only go “about half way toward the pathway needed to limit warming to less than 2°C and avoid the worst impacts of climate change.”

”This ambition gap won’t be closed in Paris,” said Jake Schmidt, director of international program at NRDC. ”But we cannot ignore it or simply kick the problem down the road for 10 or 15 years. Paris can and should set us on a course to immediately begin to tackle this challenge.”

power plant
Russian coal-burning power station near the Kazakh border supplies the industrial region of Ekaterinburg-Chelyabinsk-Magnitogorsk in the South Urals Mountains (Photo by Russian Agency of Territorial Development)

Climate justice groups who participated in an independent review of INDCs expressed “grave concern” about the UNFCCC report’s positive take on the national climate pledges.

The groups say that the UNFCCC downplays the gap between what countries have committed so far and what it will actually take to avoid catastrophic climate change.

The civil society review estiamtes a 19-gigaton gap between the aggregated country targets for reductions on the one hand and the requirements for a 66 percent chance of keeping global average temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius.

The climate justice groups assert that the “positive spin” Figueres has put on the INDC pledges is “counterproductive.”

Said Nathan Thanki of the youth group Earth in Brackets based at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine, “The world has only a small window of time to prevent catastrophic climate change and that window is fast closing.”

The name Earth in Brackets refers to the brackets that enclose controversial portions of the agreement’s text. There are many brackets remaining in the draft version of the Paris agreement reached in Bonn earlier this month.

Asad Rehman, head of international climate at Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland, said, “While it is true those pledges represent a shift from business-as-usual, which was hurtling us full speed towards a five degrees Celsius warming of the planet, the scientific reality is that the time for piecemeal action is long gone.”

The global climate already has warmed 0.85 degrees Celsius as compared to pre-industrial times, scientists say. Rehman worries that the climate impacts of 0.85 degrees warming “are already affecting the lives and livelihoods of millions of people, and are set to get even worse.”

“Rather than ‘down-payments’ on ambition, we need deep cuts now,” said Rehman. “Rich developed countries must make at least 80 percent emission cuts at home and help the poor develop cleanly in order meet their fair share of the bill.”

On behalf of Least Developed Countries, Azeb Girmai, climate lead at LDC Watch, said, “My country Ethiopia made an ambitious pledge which was roundly praised. However, Ethiopia will need around $150 billion to meet that pledge.”

If developed countries do not fulfill their commitments to come up with adequate and guaranteed financing, such ambitious INDCS as Ethiopia’s cannot be realized, said Girmai.

The multi-lateral development banks announced earlier this month that as a group they will contribute US$100 billion annually by 2020 to financing climate mitigation and adaptation for developing countries.

A report backed by 18 civil society groups including Oxfam, WWF and Action Aid, issued earlier this month calculates that the United States and the European Union should make “five times the greenhouse gas emissions cuts by 2030” as they have promised in their INDCs.

Japan is doing a tenth of its fair share, while Russia is making zero contribution to the global effort to limit temperature rise to two degrees Celsius, the NGO report concludes.

Evolved to live in Arctic ice and snow, polar bears are losing their food sources and habitat to climate change, June 2015 (Photo by Christopher Michel)

“Across the board, rich countries are failing to bring the two most important ingredients to the negotiating table – emission cuts and money,” said Brandon Wu, a climate finance expert at ActionAid.

“If they truly want to solve the climate crisis, wealthy nations must provide finance to support clean development in poor countries and to help communities adapt to dangerous climate impacts,” said Wu. “Without it, any agreement in Paris will be asking the poor to put out a burning building with a glass of water.”

In New Delhi, Chandra Bhushan, deputy director general of the Indian group Center for Science and Environment, said, “INDCs are reducing the rate of growth of emissions marginally, but this is not sufficient to keep the world on a safe temperature rise trajectory. Implementation of the INDCs will only lead to higher and higher emissions till 2030. We need a more than INDCs at Paris. Else, we might well be looking at a future of run-away global warming and disastrous impacts of extreme weather events on the poor and vulnerable of the world.

“Equity and fairness are vital to unlocking cooperation. Equity and fairness matter to people’s lives,” said Lidy Nacpil, coordinator of the Asian Peoples’ Movement on Debt and Development. “Only by embracing equity can governments in Paris define a pathway towards scaled-up global cooperation and action to secure dignified lives for all in a climate-safe world.”

power plant
The coal-burning Satpura power plant in India’s state of Madhya Pradesh is the largest in the state. (Photo by Ashish Kumar Prajapati)

A separate report was published today by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and the ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy at London School of Economics and Political Science.

It calculates that the INDCs “could move the world up to halfway between business as usual and a pathway that would offer a reasonable chance of avoiding global warming of more than 2 degrees Celsius.”

The authors, Rodney Boyd, Joe Cranston Turner and Bob Ward, find that the INDCs submitted to date would reduce annual global emissions to about 52.8 billion tonnes of carbon-dioxide-equivalent in 2030 if all countries meet their most ambitious targets.

Yet some countries, such as India and China, have made pledges about future emissions that are uncertain and depend on their levels of economic growth.

This could mean that, excluding these conditional targets, annual global emissions in 2030 would not reduce emissions enough to give a 50-66 percent chance of limiting the rise in global average temperature to 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

Annual global emissions must be reduced to below 42 gigatonnes to avoid warming of more than 2°C, the Grantham/ESRC report finds, assuming that negative emissions can be achieved later this century through technologies such as carbon capture and storage.

The authors of the Grantham/ESRC report and many of the NGOs are calling for the creation of a mechanism to be included in the Paris agreement, for countries to review their progress and to find ways of ramping up the ambition of their emissions reductions by 2030.

They also call for an intensification of efforts to increase investment and innovation in urban development, energy systems and land use that could close the gap between the INDC pledges and the 2°C goal.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2015. All rights reserved.


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