Why The INDC Climate Pledges Are Better Than They Look: Part 1

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It’s Day 1 after the soft March 31 deadline the United Nations set in Lima for developed nations to submit official plans (INDCs) for their individual efforts to combat climate change. Remember what’s new about these numbers: they represent the world’s first bottom-up estimates, determined by the emitting countries themselves from a site-specific perspective rather than calculated through an artificial one-size-fits-all formula.

Map of nations submitting Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) by first deadline (3/31/15) (UNFCCC.int)The hard news about the year’s first INDC milestone came and went with little fanfare.  Further clarifications and actions will be sprouting in the next months before the December United Nations meeting in Paris like leafy greens in the springtime.

Nations submitting Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) by first deadline (3/31/15) (UNFCCC.int)Pundits and reporters in the US have hailed yesterday’s climate scorecard predictably, in my view. At right is the official INDC sign-in sheet from the UN website, as of midnight.

The usual dire political muttering has sprung up in the US from the uber-right (read: lockstep Republicans, who seem to represent all or most of the party that now controls Congress); cautious optimism from advocates of renewable energy, the growing green community, and some surprise Tea Partiers; and indifference from the sizable majority. As is often the case, we can chalk the mass apathy to up to lack of media coverage, and to bias or superficiality in the attempts reporters did make.

Impressive? Not at first glance, certainly. Six plans filed by 3/31/15. (FYI, you can access the individual INDCs from here.)

Highest-Emitting Countries (2013 EDGAR data, from wikipedia table)Total countries on record before April 1 was 33, out of an anticipated 196, or just under 17% of the total. But is this really the failure expected and perceived by many climate deniers, and painted black, or at least dark gray, for ordinary people? I think not. The table alongside gives an indication why.

Here’s another big hint: the ground rules specify that the world’s developing nations are allowed to pass until October. These emergent economies and politically labile states may well need the added time to gather far-flung, hitherto unobtainable data, formulate first-ever responses, and translate unique national circumstances into the format prescribed by the UN.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s nation-by-nation analysis. Eyes out in particular for Canada, Australia, and Japan; India, Russia, Brazil, and South Africa; China; southeastern Asia; and the oil-rich Middle East/North African nations.

And major kudos at this point to two countries in particular:

  • Mexico to our south, a trouper and genuine star of high-emitting nations in the developing world, and
  • Gabon, the first African state to contribute, which missed the March deadline by only a day.

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