US set for Paris climate pledge as UN deadline draws near

UPDATED: Washington primed to outline scale of carbon cuts but other major economies stay silent

(Pic: UN Photo/Joao Araujo Pinto)

(Pic: UN Photo/Joao Araujo Pinto)

By Ed King

Developed countries have less than 48 hours to meet a deadline to reveal what levels of greenhouse gas reductions they would be willing to accept under a UN deal.

The submissions are seen as a critical step on the path towards a universal carbon cutting treaty, due to be signed off in Paris this December.

So far only the EU’s 28 member states, Switzerland, Mexico and Norway have released their figures, which account for around 13% of annual emissions.

The US will “definitely” deliver its goal on Monday or Tuesday, Jake Schmidt at the Washington DC-based National Defense Resources Council told RTCC.

It is likely to confirm its intention to slash emissions 26-28% on 2005 levels by 2025, as revealed in the US-China climate announcement last November.

Together with the existing pledges, that will cover 30% of global emissions, well short of the levels needed to ensure that the speed of global warming is arrested.

Preparation levels among other developed countries appear mixed. Russia’s climate envoy Oleg Shamanov confirmed to RTCC it would meet the deadline, but Canada and Japan have offered few indications they will be ready by March 31.

A Canadian official told RTCC they did not recognise the deadline but would deliver their plans “well in advance” of Paris.

“We will continue to take action at the federal level to reduce emissions while protecting the Canadian economy,” they added.

Australia has established a Paris taskforce run by the offices of the prime minister and cabinet, and on March 28 released a ‘Post-2020 Emissions Reduction Target Issues Paper‘. Seasoned Canberra observers predict it will release its pledge in June.

For Schmidt, these moves are simply too late: “It’s predictable but disappointing, and sends a weak signal from those countries.” All three will face intense pressure at the G7 summit in June, he added.

Trust deficit

While a lack of pledges by Wednesday will not torpedo efforts to achieve a Paris deal, it’s likely to make it harder, said Switzerland’s climate ambassador Franz Perrez.

The date is not a surprise, he stressed. It was agreed in December 2013, in the interests of transparency and clarity.

“If the large majority of developed countries and major economies are not submitting their INDC by 31 March or shortly thereafter, this would clearly undermine the trust in partners, the assumption that parties take COP [UN summit] decision seriously, and the credibility of COP decisions as such,” he said.

A “critical number” of submissions need to be ready by June, he added, when UN negotiations on a draft climate treaty text resume in Bonn.

With serious doubts already festering over the levels of financial aid rich countries will make available, delay here adds to feelings of mistrust.

Delivering INDCs on time would offer a “strong signal of readiness” said Pa Ousman Jarju, Gambia’s environment minister.

“I see this as… in the spirit of the agreement – that every party is committed to do the utmost they can,” he said.

Review process

Many governments already see these talks as a zero sum game and are holding their cards tight.

That was the atmosphere at 2009’s Copenhagen climate summit, when countries tried and failed to agree a pact.

The build-up to Paris has been different than six years ago, notably because the US and China have already crafted their own bilateral climate pact.

That move was a “game changer”, said Saleemul Huq, a Bangladeshi scientist and veteran climate talks observer, but on its own not enough.

Unless enough countries come forward now, it will be hard to calculate if the emissions cuts will be sufficient to avoid warming beyond 2C, which could cause more floods, droughts and rising sea levels.

It is vital they do so long before a 1 October cut-off point, he said, after which they will be assessed by a UN panel.

“If governments are too late it will be hard to assess the collective effort and know how far we need to ratchet up [ambition],” said Huq. “There’s no way the initial INDCs will get us near 2C.”

Emerging economies

China, the world’s largest emitter, will wait until the end of the second quarter of 2015 before releasing its pledge, RTCC understands.

Brazil is working towards an October deadline, Bloomberg reports, while India’s environment minister said the country would wait to see what was in other INDCs before publishing its own.

They are all likely to scrutinise Mexico’s submission, delivered late on Friday, detailing plans for an emissions peak in 2026.

Gambia will present its INDC by June, Pa Ousman said, with Costa Rica another expected to deliver its figures the next two months.

Chile, classed by the UN as a developing country, plans to deliver its pledge by the end of May, its climate negotiator Andres Pirazzoli told RTCC.

It would include a carbon intensity target, along with goals for adaptation, technology transfer and financial requirements, he said.

The pledges from the EU, Switzerland and Norway which are just focused on emissions cuts were not enough, he added, given the world is on a trajectory to warm beyond 2C.

“We like to be early movers, we like to set the pace for our partners and peers on the way forward. This is why our contribution is focused on other pillars than mitigation,” he said.

“We feel this is not only about mitigation, and the contribution a country makes should not be limited to this.”

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