10 takeaways from UN report on national climate pledges

Most countries got involved, adaptation matters and emissions are still rising – nuggets from official review ahead of Paris summit

National pledges steer a lower-carbon path to Paris, but don't go far enough (Pic: Flickr/Justin Brown)

National pledges steer a lower-carbon path to Paris, but don’t go far enough
(Pic: Flickr/Justin Brown)

By Megan Darby

The top line of this Friday’s UN report on national climate plans was no surprise: collectively, they don’t hold global warming to 2C.

Analysts and diplomats had been saying as much for months. They stress that December’s Paris climate deal must set a framework for ramping up ambition over time.

But this stocktake of countries’ contributions did yield some insights into shifting global climate trends. Here are 10 things we learned.

  1. Most countries got involved

By the 1 October deadline, the UN received 119 “intended nationally determined contributions” (INDCs). The EU submission covers all 28 member states, so that’s three quarters of the 195 countries who need to agree a deal in Paris.

Those participants were responsible for 86% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2010. Some INDCs did not include all sectors or gases, but they still deal with four fifths of the world total.

  1. Adaptation matters

While rich countries sought to focus on quantifiable emissions targets, the developing world was equally concerned with managing unavoidable climate impacts.

Of the plans, 100 had a section on adaptation: protecting citizens and property from the heightened risks like flooding, drought and sea level rise.

  1. Emissions continue to rise…

In absolute terms, emissions are still increasing, as fossil fuelled development of emerging economies outweighs cuts by industrialised countries.

Between 2010 and 2030, greenhouse gas output worldwide is set to grow 11-22%.

  1. …but more slowly

That said, the rate of growth will be 10-57% lower than over the previous two decades, reflecting efforts to decarbonise.

And it lags behind the population boom, with personal carbon footprints decreasing 5% over the same period.

  1. Delay is costly

If governments make no further effort before 2030, it’s still possible to hold warming to 2C this century, but at “substantially higher” cost.

That is because it will be necessary to make much steeper emissions cuts between 2030 and 2050.

  1. Politicial will is rising

Increased participation and cooperation show there are opportunities to increase ambition in future, the report says.

It notes that many countries “expressed determination” to achieve the 2C goal through collective efforts.

  1. Data is tricky

With no clear rules, countries chose a variety of ways to express their targets. They used different baselines and covered different sectors and gases.

Some had gaps in their data or were vague about their accounting methods for emissions from forestry and land use, a particularly complex sector.

  1. Renewables are top priority…

Expanding clean sources of energy was popular measure for cutting emissions, with 90 plans identifying it as a priority.

Energy efficiency and sustainable transport followed close after, while carbon capture and storage got just two mentions.

  1. …along with water

On the adaptation front, water security was the main concern, with many already counting the costs of drought and flooding.

Agriculture came next, with 82 countries aiming to plant more resilient crops or adopt sustainable farming techniques.

  1. There are strings attached

Around a quarter of proposed emissions cuts are conditional on support from the international community, including technology and training as well as finance.

The UN did not tot up cost estimates but noted individual countries set out needs of between US$100 million and $200 billion for adaptation alone.

Read more on: NDCs | UN climate talks