INDCs – how do the latest climate pledges stack up?

by Alyssa Gilbert, Head of Policy and Translation, Grantham Institute

carbon emissions purple skyIt is just like some colossally awful house-bidding process. Only here it is not just an attractive three-bed semi-detached residence that is at stake. In the run up to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference in Paris in December, each country is submitting its bargaining chip, a so-called Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC).

The levels that countries put forward is part of the complex international climate negotiations – countries are keen to show genuine commitments to climate change action, but very few are willing to rush ahead of other nations. It is a classical prisoner’s dilemma.

Analysts and, quite frankly, those who care about climate change are waiting with bated breath to see what these commitments will add up to. Once each country has stated what it will do, how close will we be to the target of limiting global temperature rise to 2°C?

Announcements of  INDCs are coming thick and fast, albeit months after the purported deadline. Last week saw a bumper crop of INDCs from Iceland, Serbia, South Korea and the long-anticipated Chinese contribution. These contributions bump us up to over 55% coverage of current global emissions, and 43% of countries.

So, the good news is, we are starting to see some commitments, but where does this take us?  A good step-by-step update, complete with lovely infographic is regularly updated on The Carbon Brief .

The expert analysts at the Climate Action Tracker weigh up each of the INDCs to see what that means for the climate as a whole, and it is not looking good. The majority of countries assessed have commitments, and matching national policies, that fall within the ‘medium’ range – this means that they will not keep us within the 2°C limit.

Assessing the latest INDCs

Looking more specifically at last week’s key announcements, different national approaches give us a flavour of some of the key issues up for debate – the use of markets, the need for effective national policies and the potential and desire to overachieve.

Firstly the markets/no-markets debate. South Korea’s INDC is deemed inadequate by the Climate Action Tracker because it just doesn’t demand steep enough cuts to reduce our carbon envelope. In addition, the challenge of kick-starting a step-change in domestic emissions in this well-developed country will be exacerbated by a heavy reliance on international market-mechanisms, i.e. buying reductions achieved in other countries. Critics of this approach reveal a duality – on the one hand the use of more markets is lauded because it can bring down the global costs of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, whilst on the other hand, countries can use international markets as a way to avoid action at home.

The verdict on China has revealed a second interesting theme, emphasising that action through national policies is needed to make the INDCs effective. In fact, the Climate Action Tracker notes that China’s national policies fare much better than the overall carbon intensity target – which is a good sign, even if the overall trajectory still only scores a medium.   A useful English translation of the China National Center for Climate Change Strategy and International Cooperation (NCSC)’s analysis of the INDC can be found here. This analysis emphasises some of the development, greenhouse gas monitoring (MRV) and other challenges that China will still face in delivering on its INDCs.

The importance of national policies should hit home here in the UK. In the same week as China released its INDCs, the UK’s Climate change Committee (CCC) noted that we are doing well, but not well enough (see report). In the end the INDCs need to translate to solid, effective actions within each individual country. And doing so successfully is far from easy.

For me, the third take home message is, as ever, political. It has been widely reported that the China’s overall INDC target is deliberately loose, to allow for overachievement. Let’s hope other countries rise to the competitive challenge – a race to overachieve would be a great way to try and beat the mediocrity of the current INDC commitments and ensure we meet the necessary level of ambition over the coming years.

Let’s all take a leaf out of China’s book – their INDC represents a challenging trajectory, but they are moving fast…..

The current analysis on the table provides information about just how hard it will be for countries to steer towards their stated goals.  I will be a more frequent presence on the blogosphere from now on, pulling together my thoughts on climate change commitment and actions at all levels of government, and in business, in the run up to Paris but also, and more importantly, beyond!


Follow Alyssa on Twitter: @AlyssaRGilbert

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