As the first deadline for national climate pledges under the UN climate process passed, governments were confronted with a clear message; supporting ambitious climate action action will save lives, create jobs and save governments money.
31 March marked the first deadline for countries to submit their pledges to the UN on how they intend to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
These pledges – or intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) in UN speak – will form the basis of the new global climate agreement to be agreed in Paris in December.
At the UN climate talks in Lima, Peru last December government agreed that those countries “ready to do so” would formally file their pledges ahead of the first deadlines, with the world’s leading industrialised economies urged to be part of this first round.
But as this first deadline came and went only five countries plus the EU, submitted their plans and there were many notable exceptions.
Canada, Australia and Japan all failed to put forward pledges, as did China – the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter – although the country has already publicly outline its plans.
Who pledged what?
Switzerland was the first country to come forward with its post-2020 climate action plan. The country committed to reduce emissions by 35% below 1990 levels by 2025, and 50% by 2030. It also laid out plans for a 70-85% cut by 2050. The proposal includes a wide coverage of greenhouse gas and sectors, but was criticised for heavily relying on international market mechanisms, including offsets and carbon trading.
The EU was the second region to announce its plan, putting forward a legally binding commitment reduce emissions by “at least” 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. The bloc has left the door open to go beyond this pledge, and commentators say this could just stand as the group’s opening gambit. In the lead-up to Paris, more pressure will be on the bloc to clarify how its approach to land use will not detract from the “at least 40%” goal for other economic sectors and to set an aggressive target for 2025 to kick-start progress in achieving reductions.
Mexico announced a “landmark” climate target on Friday, making it the first developing country to present a formal pledge under the UN process. It promised that its emissions of greenhouse gases will peak by 2026 and then begin to decline – with a cut of 22 per cent by 2030 on business-as-usual. The country has also said it could raise its pledge to 36% with international support, including finance and technology.
Norway has pledged to cut its greenhouse gas emissions to at least 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. Norway intends to fulfill the commitment in cooperation with the EU, and said it will develop an emissions budget for the 2021-2030 period. Norway’s includes use of EU carbon credits.
Getting in just before the deadline, the US also joined the INDC party yesterday, officially submitting its long-awaited target to reduce emissions 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025. The US climate action plan will cut emissions from every sector of the economy and and excludes international credits “at this time”.
In the final hours before the deadline, Russia also put forward its pledge to cut domestic emissions 25-30% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. The Russian pledge includes “maximum possible account” of the land sector.
A little late the game, today, Gabon became the first African nation to submit its climate pledge to reduce emissions by 50% on business-as-usual projections by 2025.
More climate action, more benefits
As the first round of pledges trickled in, new research aims to highlight the benefits of supporting strong climate action.
In new analysis the New Climate Institute, examined the EU climate pledge, and the commitments made publicly by the US – in line with its announcement yesterday – and China late last year.
The study shows that if these three major emitters were to meet the current targets on the table, they could deliver around one million new jobs by 2030, save the lives of 100,000 people who would otherwise die prematurely due to air pollution, and mean huge savings from avoiding the high costs of imported fossil fuels.
However, if all three of these major emitters were to scale up their action, support a 100% renewables pathway and a trajectory to keep global warming below 2C, they could collectively create a massive three million jobs by 2030, save the lives of around 1.3 million people and save around $520 billion from avoided fossil fuel imports every year.
With such clear co-benefits of climate action, those failing to live up to the growing momentum are finding themselves increasingly isolated among leading nations.
As country after country stepped up to the table this week, Australia further cemented its reputation as a coal-obsessed wrecker as it continued to drag its feet on its own submission.
While the rest of the world moves forward, Australia’s climate change policy is “on course for ‘disastrous’ 4DegC warming”, according to researchers, as it allows polluters to increase emissions and further dooms the country to climate pariah status.
Meanwhile, Canada stood out this week as the only country in North America not to submit a plan, leaving it facing strong criticism both inside and outside its borders.
In an effort to nudge the federal government to pick up its pace, CAN-Canada, submitted its own proposal for a draft contributions to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, but with Canada’s global performance rankings on climate and development slumping at a fleeting pace, these last ditched attempts will not prevent the country from becoming increasingly isolated.
Road to Paris
Despite some major emitters failing to meet the loose 31 March deadline for submissions, the 33 national who filed pledges account for more than a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, and over the next eight months more pledges are expected to trickle in, as countries move into crunch time for a crucial year for climate action.
In December, representatives from more than 190 countries will meet in the French capital to sign a new international agreement to cut emissions and limit temperature rise.
This agreement, and the national pledges which form it, will signal the intention of all countries to end the fossil fuel era, embrace the renewable energy future, and build resilient communities.
Government leaders now face a choice; speed up this ongoing transition from dirty energy to 100 per cent renewables, as demanded by citizens, businesses, investors and scientists, or spend the rest of their careers cleaning up climate disasters.