UN report removes carbon targets for rich versus poor countries

IPCC study offers new focus on regional groupingssmoothing historical divide between global north and south

Source: Flickr/Bruce Guenter

Source: Flickr/Bruce Guenter

By Gerard Wynn

The latest UN climate report has removed a quoted target for carbon emissions cuts by rich versus developing countries, preferring a more detailed breakdown of targets according to global regions, and changing the target year.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reviews the latest published science on climate change every five to six years.

It does not itself make policy recommendations or suggest targets for emissions cuts, but may quote these from the scientific literature.

In its previous report published in 2007, the IPCC quoted several sources in the academic literature to estimate that developed countries should cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 25 to 40% by 2020 and by 80 to 95% by 2050, both compared with 1990 levels, to avoid more dangerous levels of global warming.

Those targets acquired enormous significance in the run-up to a climate summit in Copenhagen in 2009, which fell short of a goal to agree a new climate treaty to succeed the Kyoto Protocol.

Most developed countries volunteered 2020 targets far weaker than the 25-40% emissions cuts quoted in the IPCC report, leading emerging economies to complain that were failing to shoulder their responsibilities.

In the latest IPCC report, such targets are no longer referred to in a chapter on international collaboration. A different chapter on pathways for emissions reductions breaks out targets for more detailed regional groups, for 2030 versus 2010 levels.


A split between developed and developing countries has for a long time divided UN climate talks.

In UN climate policy jargon, developed countries are referred as Annex 1, under the UN Climate Convention, and developing countries as Non-Annex 1.

The IPCC report in 2007 quoted a target for Annex 1 countries to cut emissions by 25-40% in 2020, and for developing countries only to make cuts compared with a baseline of rapidly rising emissions, with the implication that they may not have to make absolute cuts in emissions at all.

Those targets were intended to keep climate change on a safer course, equivalent to levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere of around 450 parts per million of CO2 equivalent.

The report gave similar targets for 2050. (See below table from IPCC report in 2007)


The latest report preferred a more detailed breakdown of regional groups, moving away from the controversial Annex 1 versus non-Annex 1 divide.

It preferred more detailed groups, namely OECD, Asia, Latin America and Middle East and Africa.

The emissions targets were slightly less ambitious, leading to higher levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases, at 450-530 ppm.

And they referred to 2030, anticipating absolute emissions cuts by all regions except Asia. (See figure below from IPCC report published on Sunday.)


Sunday’s report was the last instalment of the latest report, focusing on policy options to cut emissions, and compiled by some 235 authors.

They found that countries should roughly halve global carbon emissions by 2050, compared with present levels, which are still rising, to avoid the most dangerous climate change.

They said that “business as usual” was not an option, given expected temperature rises of 3 to 5C without efforts to curb emissions, implying dangerous sea level rise, floods and droughts.

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