Many recent pledges for national climate action are vague and barely comparable, showing there is much work to do to achieve a transparent global agreement on climate change.

Countries have promised to submit pledges for climate action ahead of a summit in Paris at the end of this year. In Paris, they are expected to reach a major agreement setting targets for action beyond 2020, for greenhouse gas emissions, financing and measures to adapt to climate change.

The emissions pledges that countries have submitted so far show the problems of leaving the task of setting targets to countries themselves. So far, they have all used different approaches for calculating their targets.

When the pledges are adjusted to make them more consistent, comparing targeted emissions in 2025 with levels in 2005, it turns out that China expects its emissions to rise by about 75 percent, compared with a drop of nearly 30% in the European Union.

Percent change in greenhouse gas emissions, 2025 vs 2005
China (CO2 only)75.51%
Russia44.84%
Korea12.56%
Japan-18.49%
Canada-24.09%
US-28.00%
EU-29.20%

 

The negotiations for a Paris agreement are following a voluntary approach for climate action, allowing countries to set their own targets. The aim is to make some other parts of the Paris agreement legally binding, such as emissions reporting, and a commitment to make climate action more ambitious over time.

There is certainly work to do, to improve transparency, given that the pledges submitted to date are barely comparable:

1. They target different years, either 2025 or 2030, and with different baselines, including 1990, 2005 and 2013

2. Treat differently or ignore aspects of emissions targets which have a big impact on their ambition, for example whether to use international carbon offsets or count forest carbon sinks

3. Use different approaches for setting emissions targets, whether absolute emissions, or targets based on the carbon intensity of GDP, or compared with business as usual emissions

4. Measure different greenhouse gases (GHGs), including all the main GHGs, or just carbon dioxide (CO2)

5. In some cases have a range of ambition, raising the question which end of the range is the main target.

The targets submitted to date can be made more comparable by indexing these to a common target and baseline. The chart below illustrates the table above, in a different format, showing how emissions will change over time, for a target year of 2025 versus 2005.

INDCs 2

The chart uses various assumptions, to overcome the lack of comparability between the submitted pledges. It uses countries’ own estimates for historical emissions, except China, where BP energy data are used, and it uses countries’ own pledges for emissions in 2025 or 2030. Where the pledges are for 2030, 2025 estimates have been derived from drawing a straight line between the latest historical estimate and the 2030 pledge. China’s pledge is an intensity target; its actual 2025 emissions are calculated using OECD GDP forecasts and UN GDP data (local currency, constant 2005 prices). Where countries submitted a range, the chart above uses the most ambitious end of that range. In the case of Korea, the chart applies the target for domestic carbon emission reductions.

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