UN: Climate ‘down-payments’ delivered, but must be built-upon in Paris

Intro

With less than four weeks until governments meet in Paris for the UN climate summit, new analysis from the UNFCCC shows climate pledges currently on the table could drive a substantial deceleration in emissions growth over the next 15 years. Described as a “down-payment on a new era of climate ambition”, the pledges – which cover nearly 150 countries and 90 per cent of global emissions – represent a step change in government’s willingness to take action on climate change. But the analysis is clear: ambition needs to be raised before 2020 and regularly thereafter, if governments are to cut emissions in the most cost effective way and keep the world within the internationally agreed danger threshold of 2DegC warming, or the 1.5DegC called for by vulnerable nations. This latest analysis echoes a host of other findings which show that national pledges will bring multiple benefits – including lives saved and jobs created – and kick-start a huge expansion in renewable energy solutions. More action will bring even more benefits, move the world further towards a safe climate, and make the global transition to a future powered by 100 per cent renewable energy unstoppable. With all of the information now on the table, the pressure is on countries to come to Paris ready to sign-on to a new universal climate regime that sets a clear long-term goal of phasing out fossil fuels by 2050, that regularly increases ambition in line with this aim, and that provides the financial support to poorer nations to ensure no one is left behind in the global transition.

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Key Points

  • Ahead of the Paris summit, some 150 countries – responsible for nearly 90 per cent of global emissions – have pledged to take action, moving the world closer to a safe climate. While still not sufficient to keep temperature rise below the internationally agreed 2DegC limit, let alone the 1.5DegC advocated by vulnerable nations, the pledges are expected to slow emissions growth and deliver reductions of around 4Gt – more than the annual emissions of the EU – by 2030 on current projections, according to a UN assessment released today. Analysis from Climate Action Tracker shows these pledges could move average warming to a 2.7DegC pathway, significantly flattening the warming curve by 0.9DegC. Countries heading to Paris now have a clear understanding what others are prepared to do and what is needed to close the gap between the current pledges and a world safe from runaway climate change.
  • When they are implemented, the national action plans will save lives and money, create green jobs and transform the global economy. Research from the New Climate Institute shows that the current pledges could see hundreds of thousands of deaths prevented due to improved air quality, millions of jobs created and billions of dollars saved in fossil fuel imports. On top of this, they will serve as an entry point for a huge transition to a low carbon economy that will help to further push down the costs of renewables of and make them the dominant source of electricity by 2030. India and China’s pledges alone suggest the two countries will install twice the current global capacity of wind and solar in the next 15 years, while the US’ Clean Power Plan will boost the market share of clean energy in the country from 12 to 21 per cent.  

Background

With less than four weeks until governments meet in Paris for the latest round of UN climate talks, new analysis from the UNFCCC Secretariat shows climate pledges currently on the table could drive a substantial deceleration in emissions growth over the next 15 years, making it possible and affordable by 2030 to stay below a 2DegC temperature rise. Assessing the collective impact of current climate action plans – which currently cover around 150 countries and nearly 90 per cent of global emissions – the analysis shows that the aggregate impact of the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions – or INDCs – could bring global average emissions per capita down by as much as 8 per cent in 2025 and 9 per cent in by 2030s. Described as a “down-payment on a new era of climate ambition” the national plans are also expected to slow global emissions growth by approximately a third between 2010 and 2030 compared to the period 1990 to 2010, delivering emission reductions of around 4Gt by 2030 compared to pre-INDC scenarios, according to the analysis.

With half of country commitments including a long-term goal out to 2050 – on top of their 2025 and 2030 targets – the UN says they represent governments’ commitment to an increasing decarbonisation of their national economies. And with only 25 per cent of action plans including conditional pledges, based on financial and technical support, it showcases governments’ increasing willingness and ability to take action on climate change. But the UNFCCC also emphasized that the current pledges should act as the floor and not the ceiling for climate ambition, and that action plans need to be scaled-up before 2020, and regularly thereafter, if governments are to cut emissions in the most cost effective way and keep the world within the internationally agreed danger threshold of 2DegC warming, or the 1.5DegC called for by vulnerable nations.

While the UN’s own analysis did not assess implications for temperature change from the plans, other analysis has aimed to map these changes. Recent analysis from the Climate Action Tracker shows that these initial pledges have the potential to deliver almost a full degree (0.9DegC) of avoided temperature rise and bend the warning curve to 2.7DegC, thus bringing the world closer – but not all the way – to the internationally agreed 2DegC limit.

On top of this a host of research has also shown the transformative power of the current pledges, which will bring multiple benefits for communities. Research from the New Climate Institute shows that while different countries will tap into varying levels of benefits, globally these pledges could see hundreds of thousands of premature deaths prevented, millions of jobs created and billions of dollars saved in fossil fuel imports. China, for example, will save the most lives with its pledge, with 75 per million people not dying prematurely every year as a result of reduced air pollution. Also benefiting significantly from moving away from fossil fuels are Chile and South Africa. Chile will save the most money from avoided fossil fuel imports, banking US $146 per person annually, followed by South Africa at $78 and Japan at $67 per head. The United States will create the most jobs from its climate plan, harnessing a massive 1321 positions in the renewable energy sector per million people, followed by South Africa on 930, China on 354 and Chile on 353.

A report from the MILES project Consortium, showed that INDCs submitted to date will serve as an entry point for a huge expansion in clean energy globally over the next 15 years and make renewables the dominant source of electricity by 2030. These pledges will drive further cost reductions, technological breakthroughs, improved manufacturing capacity, learnings for policy formation and reduced investment risk in the renewable energy sector, according to the analysis. But more climate action means more benefits and pressure is on governments to arrive in Paris ready to signal their intention to phase out fossil fuels by the middle of the century, and review and increase their pledges well ahead of 2020, and every five years after that. By bolting on these features, research shows they could make another stride towards keeping global warming within the internationally agreed 2DegC limit, or even the 1.5DegC threshold the most vulnerable nations are demanding. Such moves would also make the shift to clean energy unstoppable, dragging along even those economies currently fighting against the tide, while resulting in million more jobs, billions more in cost savings and millions more deaths prevented.

By scaling up action over time, in line with a pathway towards 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050, India, for example, could save an additional 862 lives per million each year, followed by China on 778 and Japan with 125. The US stands to bank the most cash by scaling up, with an additional US $450 per head going into the coffers every year thanks to avoided fuel bills, followed by the EU on $267 and Japan on $208. China could create an additional 990 jobs in the renewable energy sector per million people if it scales up action, followed and the EU and Japan where a 681 and 558 jobs would be added per million people.

With the vast majority of climate pledges now on the table, a review of INDCs shows vulnerable countries are currently out-performing many of the world’s largest emitters on ambition, with many offering to go even further with international support. With these countries ready and willing to lead the clean transition, governments will also need arrive in Paris ready to scale up the finance needed to allow these poorer countries to maximise their emissions reductions and increase their resilience to climate risks, and ensure all countries grasp the full potential of the transition to a 100% renewable future and that no one is left behind.  

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Key Quotes

  • “These INDCs–or national climate action plans–represent a clear and determined down-payment on a new era of climate ambition from the global community of nations. Governments from all corners of the Earth have signalled through their INDCs that they are determined to play their part according to their national circumstances and capabilities. Fully implemented these plans together begin to make a significant dent in the growth of greenhouse gas emissions: as a floor they provide a foundation upon which ever higher ambition can be built. I am confident that these INDCs are not the final word in what countries are ready to do and achieve over time–the journey to a climate safe-future is underway and the Paris agreement to be inked in Paris can confirm, and catalyze that transition.” – Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
  • “These plans set a determined course, clearly recognizing that successful climate action achieves not only low emissions but a host of other economic and social benefits for governments, citizens and business. Backed by financial support for developing countries, a clear long term destination of climate neutrality in the second half of the century and a ratcheting up of ambition in a structured, transparent and timely way, the INDCs provide an inspiring part of what will become the Paris package.” – Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
  • “The impending Paris summit has been crucial in getting countries to come forward and announce their national plans to cut emissions. Without this international pressure many may not have cooperated.  It is significant that we have pledges from some 150 countries representing just less than 90 per cent of global emissions. But these announced national climate plans must be seen as the floor, not the ceiling of a country’s ambition. Governments must build upon them to deliver stronger action now and into the future. The Paris outcome alone won’t prevent climate change, it will just get us closer to the agreed goal of limiting global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius.  If fully implemented these pledges will get us to 2.7 degrees Celsius by 2100 but we need a mechanism that will drive future action to get that number down to 2 degrees and preferably lower. We’re already seeing significant climate effects from 0.85 degrees of warming. Paris will not be the end of the world’s efforts to tackle climate change, but it might be the end of the beginning. Going forward we will need a five year review mechanism that will track how countries are doing and push them to do more as technology advances and more finance becomes available.” – Christian Aid’s Senior Climate Advisor, Mohamed Adow
  • “We’re going to need to see more ambition in Paris. The targets currently on the table still aren’t enough to prevent climate catastrophe. To close the gap, politicians must settle on a clear mechanism to increase ambition, make real financial commitments, and agree to a unifying goal of completely decarbonizing the global economy. Our movement will continue to do our part by stopping new fossil fuel infrastructure, accelerating the transition to 100% renewable energy, and putting hundreds of thousands in the streets to demand stronger action. While the current pledges are inadequate, they’re still enough to send a clear signal to investors that the age of fossil fuels is over – there’s no way to meet these targets, let alone the stronger ones necessary, without a full scale transition to renewable energy. We’ve seen a wave of fossil fuel divestment commitments in the lead up to Paris and we expect to see even more after a deal is signed. Unless they fundamentally transform themselves, fossil fuel companies are going to suffer the same fate as the dinosaurs they burn: extinction.” – 350.org Strategy and Communications Director Jamie Henn
  • “We welcome the fact that so many countries have made public pledges to cut their emissions – some by significant amounts, others less so. The UNFCCC’s verdict reveals that while the world is making progress much more needs to be done. While this round of pledges is a step in the right direction, they only take us from a 4°C catastrophe to a 3°C disaster. Countries need to make much steeper emissions cuts to achieve a goal of keeping the average temperature rise below 2°C. Remaining below the level of 1.5°C, which many vulnerable countries are rightly demanding for their very survival will require even stronger action. Rich countries especially need to do more to pull their weight, although deeper reductions are needed everywhere to minimize climate harm.” – Oxfam’s head of food and climate policy Tim Gore
  • “The breadth and, in some cases, depth of the INDCs presented to date show that we are in a much better position going into COP21 than we were before Copenhagen six years ago. With increasing availability of low cost clean technologies and the additional commitment by states, cities and companies, there is no reason for governments not to push for the most ambitious deal people in six weeks time. And let’s make no mistake, despite this encouraging progress, we still need an agreement that reduces emissions even further and sets us firmly on the path to a fully decarbonized global economy.” – Mark Kenber, CEO, The Climate Group
  • “The report shows that national contributions enable us to change the situation and lead us away from the worst-case scenario of a global temperature increase to 4-5˚C or more. It confirms that it is possible to stay on track to limiting warming to below 1.5-2°C by the end of the century, but this will require further efforts in time. Some estimates place us on a trajectory to an increase between 2.7-3°C by the end of the century. This confirms the importance of reaching an agreementat the COP21 in Paris that sets the rules for scaling up the ambition set out in the national contributions over time.” – French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius

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