Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Governments are Pledging to Reduce GHGs Ahead of COP21

The fight against global warming is largely about reducing emissions and both national and regional governments are beginning to do what they must to keep temperatures below the 2 degree Celsius upper threshold limit We are seeing bold action ahead of COP21 where it is hoped that we will finally see an international agreement to combat climate change including radical emissions reductions. As we ebb ever closer to climate talks in Paris, the world is increasingly focused on what is called Intended Nationally Determined Targets (INDC).

The US has made significant carbon reduction pledges ahead of COP21. The country is already committed to an 83 percent cut in carbon emissions compared to 2005 levels by 2050, and the UK has agreed to an 80 reduction compared to 1990 levels by the middle of the century and the EU has made similar commitments.

Under the leadership of Barack Obama, the US has been pushing hard to secure carbon reduction agreements with other countries. This summer they came to an important climate agreement with Brazil and late last year President Obama and French President Hollande came together to call for climate action. The G7 has also committed to reduce emissions by up to 70 percent below 2010 levels.

“Deep cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions are required with a decarbonisation of the global economy over the course of this century,” read the agreed text, signed by the leaders of Germany, the US, the UK, France, Italy, Canada, and Japan.

If we are to keep temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius we will need to see a minimum of 14-29 percent reductions by 2030 and 60 percent by 2050, compared to 2010 levels. This will almost certainly entail the virtual elimination of the fossil fuels.

As the largest producer of GHGs what happens in China is crucial. In 2012 China agreed to cut its carbon intensity - the amount of CO2 produced per dollar of economic output - by about 40 per cent by 2020, compared to 2005 levels. China has long been a global leader in renewable energy and they have also been working on special green economic zones.

"What China has done over such a short period of time to improve energy efficiency and deploy clean energy is already paying major dividends to the global environment," Fatih Birol, the chief economist with the International Energy Agency, said in a statement accompanying the 2012 report.

This report indicated that China's carbon intensity, which reflects the amount of carbon dioxide emitted per unit of GDP, fell by 15 percent between 2005 and 2011.

The US and China are cooperating to reduce emissions adding to their joint efforts that culminated in a historic agreement in 2014. The two nations are working together on a number of climate fronts and they have announced several agreements in recent years. China is using less coal and the nation has made substantial emissions reductions pledges. The country is capping its GHG emissions, introducing the world's largest carbon trading scheme and continuing to make ambitious investments in renewable energy.

The US and China are not the only countries that are promising to reduce emissions. India has just stepped forward with new carbon reduction pledges. Japan is increasing their investments in renewable energy including ambitious solar targets and massive wind farms. Other Asian countries including South Korea have also introduced ambitious plans to reduce emissions.

To date over 60 countries have submitted INDC proposals and many others are expected to announce their proposals in the coming months. In addition to pledges from national governments, local governments are doing more than their fair share to reduce emissions. In fact, on September 23 during World Climate Week,  state and regional governments pledged to reduce their GHGs more than the annual emissions of the US.

Over 20 regional and local governments, which together comprise 10 percent of the world’s GDP, have committed to new GHG reductions. Twenty more regional governments are expected to add their names to this agreement before the opening of COP21 in November. These “sub-national” governments from all around the world may be responsible for as much as 7.9 gigatons of CO2 reductions by 2030.

These commitments and actions are prescient as we are rapidly running out of time to act, however they are still inadequate to keep us within the 2 degree upper threshold limit.

As stated Climate Action Tracker on September 2: "The climate targets so far submitted to the UN by governments collectively lead to global emissions far above the levels needed to hold warming to below 2°C."

We will need to more robust INDC commitments to close the emissions gap.  As explained in the IPCC AR5 report, failure to substantially reduce emissions would result in an "ecological and economic catastrophe".

To see the climate pledge of each country click here to go to the Carbon Tracker's breakdown.

Corporate Efforts to Reduce Greenhouse Gases
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