US set to pledge emissions cuts of up to 28% ahead of global climate treaty
The US will pledge to cut carbon pollution by up to 28%, doubling the pace of current emissions cuts, under a global agreement on climate change to be finalised in Paris at the end of the year.
The Obama administration is expected to unveil its plans on Tuesday, joining China, the European Union, Mexico, Norway and Switzerland in outlining their plans to fight climate change after 2020, when the current commitments expire.
The commitments offered over the next few months are seen as the building blocks of an international agreement at Paris for global efforts to fight climate change in the years ahead.
The US is expected to offer emissions cuts of 26% to 28% by 2025 relative to 2005 levels, according to those briefed on Obama’s plans.
But most of the rest of the world will miss the deadline of midnight on Tuesday for submitting their climate change plans, agreed at the United Nations negotiations at Lima last December. A number of the biggest carbon polluters, such as Brazil, India, Indonesia, Japan and Russia, are not expected to announce their commitments until October.
Among those countries that have come forward, the EU has agreed to cut its emissions by 40% by 2030, compared with 1990 levels, while China has promised its emissions will peak by 2030.
Mexico, the first developing country to make a climate commitment, said it will cut emissions by at least 22% - and as much as 40% if certain conditions are met.Norway offered a 40% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, from 1990 levels, and said it sought to be carbon neutral by 2050.
For the rest of the world, developed countries are expected to submit plans outlining substantial cuts in greenhouse gases after 2020, while most developing nations are likely to agree only to curb the growth of their emissions compared with “business-as-usual”, rather than make absolute cuts.
But the aggregate level of emissions targets proposed will be bitterly fought over by countries, experts and civil society. Based on the early submissions from the three biggest emitting blocs, global emissions would rise to a level that would see temperatures soar by at least 3.5C, according to some analyses, way beyond the 2C of warming that is widely regarded by scientists as the limit of safety, beyond which the effects of climate change are likely to become catastrophic and irreversible.
Birgit van Munster, of the Homo Sapiens Foundation, which has been analysing the pledges as they have come in, said: “If all humanity follows the example [of the first countries to submit pledges] we will be more than 700% over the likely emissions limit [needed] to limit global warming to less than 2C, and if this trend continues humanity will proceed to go beyond 5C, the end of human life on earth as we know it.”
Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change at the London School of Economics, said: “We can already see that the pledges for 2030 are likely to be significantly lower than a “business-as-usual” emissions pathway, but far in excess of 36bn tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, which the UN Environment Programme concluded last year was the level required for a pathway that offers a 50% to 66% chance of avoiding warming of more than 2C.”
It is unlikely that the pledges made in advance of the Paris talks will be enough to lower global emissions to a level consistent with scientific advice on 2C, as many participants acknowledge. However, many are hoping that Paris will provide a mechanism for the pledges to be upwardly reviewed in future years, according to each country’s ability. Todd Stern, the US envoy for climate change, told the Guardian on a recent visit to London that Paris would not be a “one-off” agreement, but the first in a series of deals that would carry on after 2020, with countries “ratcheting up” their commitments in subsequent years.
Ward agreed: “It is very important that the agreement in Paris includes the creation of a post-2015 process that raises the ambitions of countries’ planned emissions cuts. It is not just the size of pledged emissions cuts that is important, but also their credibility. It is a positive sign that the pledges made by the EU, the US and China are at least partly backed up by domestic policies.”
Doug Parr, policy director at Greenpeace UK, told the Guardian: “Meeting the end of March deadline is an opportunity for major countries to demonstrate both urgency and leadership in the battle against climate change. But thus far we haven’t seen enough of either. Millions of people around the world are waiting for a signal that their political leaders are taking climate change seriously. They [the leaders] are still in time not to let us down.”
Once submitted, the 196 “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions”, as the plans are known, will be examined by the UN and other countries to decide whether they are fair and adequate. That process is likely to take until autumn, when the final preparations for the Paris talks will be put in place.