Energy transition accelerates as country climate plans roll in

Intro

Capping off a week of growing momentum towards a strong global climate agreement, yesterday Brazil presented an ambitious national pledge to the UN. The South American giant, which is the world’s seventh biggest polluter, aims to lower emissions by 43 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030, making it one of the few developing countries to set an absolute emissions reduction target. Brazil’s is the latest in a series of now more than 80 country pledges which have been submitted, following those of Peru, Indonesia, South Africa, Bangladesh and many others in recent days. The offers made so far show a range of levels of ambition, despite the fact that the benefits of going for higher renewables and lower carbon – preventing early deaths, creating jobs, making huge savings on fossil fuel import bills – are well-documented. Civil society organizations are calling on countries like Australia and Japan, which made disappointing offers, to increase their ambition or risk missing the boat. But others such as India, Chile and Costa Rica, expected to submit their pledges later this week, still have an opportunity to reap the rewards of going for 100 per cent renewables.  

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Key Points

More and more countries are presenting national climate action plans, collectively sending a signal of intent to move from the fossil fuel to the renewable energy age, and to build resilient communities free from poverty and inequality. Over the weekend, Brazil submitted an ambitious plan aiming for emission cuts of 43 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030. It also wants to reach 45 per cent renewable energy by the same year, and end illegal deforestation. While these are significant goals, civil society organisations have shown Brazil could go further still and reap even bigger benefits, cutting emissions by 57 per cent by 2030 and reaching carbon neutrality by 2050.

As countries submit their pledges ahead of the UN climate talks in Paris, they are building the blocks of a meaningful climate agreement. Brazil’s offer ended a week in which Peru committed to a cut of 30 per cent emissions by 2030 and Bangladesh to a 5 per cent drop in key sectors against business-as-usual projections, while South Africa promised to peak its emissions by 2025. New analysis shows the offers made so far are bending the curve of expected warming from 4.5 to 3.5DegC by the end of the century, already preventing a lot of future damage and suffering. More and stronger action plans will be necessary to keep warming below the internationally agreed 2DegC threshold, a fact dawning on world leaders who are showing increasing support for a Paris agreement that reviews and strengthens country targets every five years – towards a full phase-out of fossil fuels and societies powered by 100 per cent renewables.

Greater ambition will help the planet, its citizens and their economies – and is in growing public demand. The wisdom of aiming higher is unquestionable for all countries. If India, which is due to submit its climate pledge this week, goes for 100 per cent renewables by 2050, it will prevent 1.2 million premature deaths per year and create approximately 600,000 jobs. By doing the same, Chile would save US$2.4 billion annually in reduced fossil fuel imports, prevent 800 premature deaths each year and create 4,000 jobs. Developing countries will require support from developed countries to tap the full potential of a just transition from dirty to clean energy. Ramped up climate finance pledges from countries like Germany, the UK and even emerging economies like China are therefore crucial to unlock more action.

Background

As the October 1 deadline for countries’ UN climate pledges draws nearer, new analysis released today has shown that the plans presented to date – which will be key elements of the new global climate agreement to be finalized in Paris this December – will help bring a projected average global temperature rise of around 4.5DegC down to within range of 3.5DegC instead. This still overshoots the internationally agreed danger threshold of 2DegC, but with momentum building for a new climate regime that will see ambition increased overtime, these current pledges will help close the gap and set the stage for an agreement that can be ratcheted up every 5 years, thus speeding up the ongoing transition out of dirty fossil fuels and towards a 100 per cent renewable energy future for everyone.

Ahead of Thursday’s deadline, a slew of climate announcements have come out in the last few days, as from the Seychelles to Bangladesh, Indonesia to South Africa, countries set out the role they will play in the future regime. Perhaps most significantly, this week of pledges was capped off over the weekend with a national action plan from South America’s largest economy, Brazil. The country’s pledge sets out aims to lower emissions by 43 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030 – making it one of the few developing countries to set an absolute emissions reduction target. It also lays out plans to reach 45 per cent of renewable energy and to end illegal deforestation. While these goals are significant, however, Brazilian civil society is urging the government to go further, having recently shown that the country could in fact cut emissions by 57 per cent by 2030 and be carbon neutral by 2050.

The world’s fifth largest emitter – Indonesia – also joined the ranks of countries to put its climate pledge on the table – setting out plans to cut emissions 29 per cent by 2030, compared to business-as-usual projection, and to increase its share of renewable energy to 23 per cent over the same period. But with a lack of transparency over just how the country will track its aims, commentators warn the country’s promise lags behind other developing countries, such as Mexico, which have been clearer about spelling out their targets.

South Africa – also within the world’s top-20 emitters – set out its plan for a “peak, plateau and decline” strategy to cut its greenhouse gas emissions, working with five-year carbon budgets. It pledged to peak its emissions between 2020 and 2025 and let them plateau for approximately a decade, keeping them within a range of 398-614 million tonnes.

Bangladesh, one of the nations most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, pledged to unconditionally cut its emissions by 5 per cent below business-as-usual by 2030 in the power, transport and industry sectors, which account for 69 per cent of the country’s emissions output. It offered to increase that to 15 per cent based on “appropriate international support in the form of finance, investment, technology development and transfer, and capacity building”.

These countries join some of the world’s biggest economies including the US, China, the EU, Australia and Canada in presenting their pledges. While some countries’ pledges are stronger than others, it is becoming increasingly clear that greater ambition will be good for countries’ citizens and their economies. For example, if the EU were to increase its level of ambition to put it on the pathway to 100 per cent renewable energy it could create 420,000 new, sustainable jobs, save around 46,000 lives per year and prevent $170 billion in fossil fuel imports annually, while in the US, 180,000 jobs could be created, $160 billion saved, and 20,000 premature deaths prevented. Meanwhile similar levels of ambition in China would save $190 billion in fossil fuel imports and 1.1 million lives annually, while creating 1.4 million new jobs. Japan would save $33 billion, prevent 16,500 early deaths per year, and create 67,000 jobs. And Canada would prevent 800 deaths each year, create 8,000 jobs and reduce the country’s’ fossil fuel dependency by 29 Mtoe.

For those countries that are still to submit their INDCs, such as developing countries like India, these huge co-benefits of climate action could inform their level of ambition, depending on the financial support they receive from developed countries. For India, a pledge that would see them aim for 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050 would bring the country 600,000 new jobs and prevent around 1.2 million premature deaths per year. For Latin American nation Chile, also expected to submit its pledge in coming days, an ambitious pathway would also bring added benefits in the shape of 800 deaths prevented, 4,000 new jobs created, and $2.4 billion saved in fossil fuel import costs.

With renewable energies booming; fossil fuel companies failing; governments and officials falling over themselves to highlight the development gains of climate action as they agree a new set of Sustainable Development Goals; and new analysis showing that a 100 per cent renewable energy future for all is necessary, achievable and beneficial, countries are running out of excuses not to act. As the INDC deadline comes and goes this week, and more climate pledges get laid on the table, the next step for government’s will be to craft a Paris agreement that acts as a floor and not a ceiling for ambition and builds on these pledges over time. With growing momentum for such a meaningful deal from all walks of life, those governments failing to support a durable climate deal this December will find themselves on the wrong side of history.

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Quotes

  • “Although insufficient compared to what would be Brazil’s fair share for keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius until the end of this century, the Brazilian climate target is one of the most ambitious announced so far for the Paris agreement. President Dilma shows that Brazil is willing to break away from the group of countries who are part of the problem and be part of the solution.” Carlos Rittl, executive secretary of the Climate Observatory

  • “By launching a robust national climate action plan today, Brazil has shown that it is getting serious about its role in bringing countries together to shape the comprehensive climate agreement in Paris this December. There are still further steps the country can take to bring its actions in line with its recent commitment to decarbonisation and inspire investors who are looking to Brazil to harvest the benefits of a renewable energy-led economy”, Caio Koch-Weser, Vice Chair of Deutsche Bank

  • “As the largest economy in Latin America, Brazil’s climate target matters to all of us, specially the smaller countries. This is precisely the signal we need from Brazil: an economy-wide target with absolute reductions and decarbonization this century. It is a game changer. I am optimistic this Plan will send the signal we need that the role of our region is to raise ambition on the road to Paris”, Monica Araya (Costa Rica), Director of Nivela

  • “Sustainable development requires everyone to promote decent work conditions, create high quality jobs and guarantee opportunities.Even as Brazil faces difficulties, it won’t go back on advances already achieved”, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff

  • “A very ambitious goal can generate economic growth,” Romeiro said. “We are seeing a new movement where even President Rousseff, who used to be more skeptical with some of the renewable technologies like wind and solar, I think she’s becoming more convinced.” Viviane Romeiro, head of Brazil climate projects for the World Resources Institute

  • “Brazil’s climate plan marks the first time a major developing country has committed to an absolute reduction of emissions. This is an important shift because it offers greater certainty that emissions can be cut even as Brazil’s economy expands. The country’s pledge to restore 12 million hectares of forests by 2030 is notably weaker than what could be achieved. In addition, the zero illegal deforestation goal is actually a step back from the country’s previous commitments. Curbing emissions from agricultural lands will depend in part on greater investment in low-carbon practices. Brazil’s new national climate action plan can be seen as a good first step. It shows serious intent to over time reduce the country’s reliance on fossil fuels and to add significant reforestation to its progress of the last decade in cutting deforestation by 75%.  But of course there’s much more they could do. To be credible, this commitment together with President Dilma Roussef’s support for a long-term decarbonization goal in the Paris agreement means that Brazil should move more rapidly across its economy. It needs more aggressive clean energy targets, a plan to avoid locking in high-carbon offshore oil investments, and a firm date within the next decade to reach zero natural forest loss – not just a promise to enforce its own laws by 2030”, Michael Wolosin at Climate Advisors

  • “An ambitious proposal, which for its full implementation will require strong policies and overt monitoring. This builds a moral obligation to the United States, Japan , Australia, Canada and other developed country to greatly increase climate goals and stick to them” Paulo Artaxo, professor and researchers at the University of São Paulo

  • “Brazil is playing a productive role in the global effort to fight climate change. The country is building momentum by calling at the highest level for a goal to phase out emissions from the global economy over the course of this century. This common vision for a zero-carbon world is one of the most powerful signals the Paris climate conference can send to businesses, investors and citizens. Brazil’s climate plan marks the first time a major developing country has committed to an absolute reduction of emissions. This is an important shift because it offers greater certainty that emissions can be cut even as Brazil’s economy expands. It’s encouraging to see Brazil focus on growing a low-carbon economy through continued investment in renewable energy. Brazil should rapidly shift away from high-carbon energy investment in line with the global efforts to slow global warming. The country’s pledge to restore 12 million hectares of forests by 2030 is notably weaker than what could be achieved. In addition, the zero illegal deforestation goal is actually a step back from the country’s previous commitments. Curbing emissions from agricultural lands will depend in part on greater investment in low-carbon practices.” – Rachel Biderman, Director, WRI Brazil

  • Brazil’s commitment to cut 43% of greenhouse gases emissions by 2030, baseline 2005, is ahead of unambitious commitments by several other countries but not enough to help avoid 2C global warming, and falls short of the 57% cut Greenpeace and partners at the Climate Observatory estimate the country could achieve. More could be done for solar and wind energy, increasing the share of renewables to 50% instead of 45% by 2030. One aspect of Brazil’s plan which causes great concern is that president Dilma said the government will take 15 more years to stop illegal deforestation, currently the biggest source of emissions in the country – the government cannot wait until 2030 to make sure the law is enforced. The fact that Brazil announced emissions reduction targets for both 2025 and 2030 is welcome, as five year commitment periods allow for clearer implementation plans and greater accountability” – Greenpeace Brazil Climate & Energy Campaigner, Pedro Telles

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