National climate pledges are flooding in – now for the hard part

Well over two-thirds of countries have posted contributions to a UN deal, building momentum towards Paris summit. What’s next?

The clock is ticking... Figures stand silhouetted against a large clock in the Musée d'Orsay (credit: Pixabay)

The clock is ticking… Figures stand silhouetted against a large clock in the Musée d’Orsay (credit: Pixabay)

By Megan Darby

It’s national climate pledge deadline day. Contributions are flooding in towards a global pact to be struck in Paris this December.

They follow hot on the heels of New York Climate Week, another US-China agreement and world leaders agreeing on key elements of a deal.

After a frenetic couple of weeks, where does international cooperation on global warming stand?

Strong participation

Of the 195 countries that need to reach agreement in Paris, more than two thirds had put forward their pledges at time of writing.

Collectively, they cover more than 80% of greenhouse gas emissions.

Brazil, Indonesia and South Africa revealed their offers in the past week.

India – the largest emitter yet to declare – was reportedly keen to time its publication with Gandhi’s birthday on Friday.

Varied coverage

Developed countries – and Brazil – have set absolute emission reduction targets for 2025 or 2030.

Emerging economies on the whole set goals compared to “business as usual”, allowing some room for emissions to grow. China and South Africa declared peak years for emissions.

The poorest countries did not have the data for economy-wide targets, but set out policies aiming to green specific sectors.

Many developing nations set out twin-track targets, showing what would be possible with international support as well as an unconditional pledge. Some put a price tag on their investment plans.

Given that some continued global warming is inevitable, vulnerable states put a particular emphasis on adapting to its impacts.

Ambition gap

It has been said before and will be said again: the plans do not collectively limit warming to 2C.

That is the agreed temperature rise threshold, measured from pre-industrial times. Those most vulnerable to climate impacts argue it should be 1.5C.

But they do make a measurable difference to projections for the course of global warming by the end of the century.

Analysts at Climate Interactive and MIT estimate the policies shift the trajectory from 4.5C under business as usual to 3.5C.

Using slightly different assumptions, the EU-based Climate Action Tracker team say they dial warming down to 2.7C.

Either way, there is more to do.

Ratcheting up

To close that gap, campaigners are looking to Paris to set a framework for periodically reviewing national pledges.

They favour a 5-year cycle, with countries submitting new, more ambitious plans each time.

The Climate Interactive model shows that over the next five years, the INDC-based projection is not too far off a 2C pathway. After that point, the two scenarios diverge more significantly.

"Intended nationally determined contributions", or INDCs, buy time for meeting 2C goal (Source: Climate Interactive)

“Intended nationally determined contributions”, or INDCs, buy time for meeting 2C goal (Source: Climate Interactive)

At a working lunch with hosted by Ban Ki-moon on Sunday, 30 heads of state agreed the need to increase ambition over time.

“Many” backed a 5-year review period “to avoid locking in low levels of ambition”, according to the meeting note.

Long-term goal

There was also convergence on the idea of translating the 2C limit into a more tangible collective long-term goal.

That could mean decarbonising the global economy this century – language endorsed by the G7 – or a similar formulation.

Paris should also “recognize the importance and the usefulness” of setting mid-century strategies for a low emission transition, the leaders agreed.

Money money money

For targets to become a reality, masses of investment is needed over the coming decades, in projects ranging from windfarms to flood defences.

Some developing countries have explicitly costed their plans, in a signal to donors and investors they are ready to put cash to work. They also stressed a need for support with technology and building up institutional expertise.

In the long run, mainstream finance will need to take a low carbon, climate-ready turn.

For now, the focus is on a promise by rich countries to mobilise US$100 billion of climate finance a year by 2020. Their plans don’t add up yet.

France and the UK upped their offers in the past week, to show willing.

The developing world will want to see more assurances before signing on the dotted line in Paris.

What next?

With two months until the big summit, there is a packed schedule of meetings ahead.

While the UN makes a formal assessment of the national climate plans, an EU-backed summit in Rabat, Morocco 12-13 October provides a public forum to scrutinise ambition.

The World Bank and International Monetary Fund host their annual meeting in Lima 9-11 October, a forum that could see progress on climate finance.

Attention turns to Turkey for a G20 meeting in November, where rich countries will be under pressure to come up with further cash.

As for the formal talks, the two co-chairs of the process are set to produce a revised draft text in the next week.

From its current 80+ pages, they are under pressure to slim it down to a manageable size – just 10-15 pages, optimists suggest – setting out clear options.

Then negotiators have five days in Bonn, 19-24 October, to try and make more progress.

Beyond Paris

It’s a massive milestone, but as any climate watcher will tell you, Paris is just the beginning.

Assuming countries strike a deal – and most observers are optimistic, although there is uncertainty over how strong it will be – they then have to put it into action.

Read more on: COP21 | NDCs | UN climate talks