Promises, Promises: Climate INDCs Actually Better Than Expected

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As November begins, promises from individual countries to the United Nations have addressed nearly 90% of the world’s current greenhouse gas emissions. The world consensus aims to reduce and stabilize them in order to keep earth’s temperatures from climbing higher than two degrees Celsius by 2100. Since the preindustrial 18th century, temps have already risen about 0.9 C.

Climate change (

The UN’s summary of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, published on October 30, aggregates emission reductions detailed in the national climate plans submitted so far. Access the final October synthesis report from UNFCCC on the overall INDC picture here.

It indicates that global average emissions per capita will drop as much as 8% by 2025 and 9% by 2030, although the predicted 21st century temperature rise will be nearer three degrees than the current two-degree goal, which scientists have begun to think of as inadequate for climate INDCs. (We’ll address this in a subsequent article. It’s definitely not good news.)

The recent climate talks in Bonn produced no major surprises in the draft treaty text apart from restressing concerns with finance and loss and damage measures and shortening it a bit. However, the concomitant process of nations of the world preparing climate pledges has really taken off. The climate information and individual goals presented on a nation-by-nation basis will underpin the UN’s new 10-year plan (2020-2030), which is expected from the climate change summit in Paris November 30 to December 11.

World governments and financial investment groups have welcomed the unprecedented international effort to sum up national contributions, and they see it as authoritative and compelling. Stephanie Pfeifer, chief executive of the International Investors Group on Climate Change, summarized the importance of proactive strategic planning to investors:

“Strong national plans provide the kind of vital market signals required from policy makers if investors are to curb the risk of stranded assets in the fossil fuel sector and to make the huge investments in low-carbon technologies.”

More nations have participated in the new assessments than in the round of 2020 pledges, as shown by the two CAIT Climate Data Explorer maps assembled by the World Resources Institute think tank.

CAIT pre-2020 contributions map ( Paris Contributions Map (

In particular, more developing nations of South America and Africa have now stepped up to the plate. Their seriousness about the task and the efforts of already industrialized nations to help them collect information and parse out the numbers reveal the world’s heightened sense of urgency about these talks.

INDC Submissions to date ( total now stands at 156 countries submitting 128 reports and pledges (some from country blocs, such as the European Union), as opposed to 73 (83.1%) in the 2020 round.

All the climate INDCs now address carbon dioxide, and many of them also cover other potent greenhouse gases such as methane. Most commitments involve low-emission, high-resilience development and predict economic growth from it.

The new pledges also include more information than the last round (pre-2020), in terms of both local data and subtlety and individuality of proposed solutions. Expressing a new realism, they concentrate better on adaptation than previous reports, which stressed mitigation and other measures. Now over 100 include adaptation programs.

Almost all the climate INDCs include a stated greenhouse gas mitigation target, unlike the earlier round. As stated in UNFCCC’s summary report, many “clearly identify existing gaps, barriers, and needs associated with adapting to their local climate change impacts. [This] begins to outline a roadmap for global efforts to build capacity, develop and share technology, and scale up adaptation finance.”

We can see priority areas emerging from the UNFCCC’s summary:

INDC priorities (

Notable among these are the increase in land use and forestry interest and relatively scant intentions to pursue uncertain and highly expensive efforts toward carbon capture, use, and storage.

Another striking feature is that twice as many commitments as in the pre-2020 round involve concrete action now.

Pre-2020 types of mitigation commitment ( types of mitigation commitment (

Base years for the pledges make a difference, as we can see in the following graph identifying commitments of the Canada, the US, the EU, and Japan:

Post 2020 GHG emissions targets: Base years (

The latest nations to make climate pledges (all after the October 1 inclusion deadline):

  • Bosnia and Herzegovina,
  • Bolivia,
  • Ecuador,
  • Afghanistan,
  • Uganda,
  • Antigua and Barbuda,
  • Oman,
  • United Arab Emirates,
  • Sri Lanka, and
  • Suriname.

INDC submissions are likely to continue until the Paris meeting.

Climate Action Tracker rates no nation’s pledges higher than “medium.” China, India, the US, the EU, Brazil, and Mexico all fall within that range. It views INDCs from Indonesia, Russia, Canada, Australia, South Korea, Japan, and South Africa as “inadequate.” Looking at the nations still holding out on their climate INDCs, the most notable may be Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, both important suppliers of fossil fuels to the world. Also troubling is the silence from the Pakistan and from the Middle East/Northern Africa nations currently stung by unpredictable wars.

The upcoming Paris agreement has started the process of nations agreeing on benchmarks and planning on deeper emission cuts that will determine the survivors of the world’s Sixth Extinction. Progress with the international agreements to date has begun to signal that countries are approaching climate science seriously, planning to use clean, renewable energy, and welcoming a rapid departure from fossil fuels.

Track 0 indicates that from a June 2014 level of about 60 nations, 131 countries had expressed support for the long-term goals of decarbonization, net zero emissions, and carbon neutrality. The Track 0 website summarizes the nature of these expressions in detail for each country.

Jennifer Morgan of WRI sees “an unprecedented level of cooperation on climate change.” Also, the UN expects that many nations will overachieve on their initial promises.

NEXT: 2.7 Degrees: “A very good step… but not enough”

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12 thoughts on “Promises, Promises: Climate INDCs Actually Better Than Expected

  • The lack of interest in carbon capture is fair enough for the failed technology of CCS at coal-fired power stations. In the medium term, sequestration will still be needed if Hansen is right and we need a much lower CO2 concentration than 450 ppm. Research effort should be stepped up.

    • Decarbonization is the goal, not CCS, which was conceived of as a way of prolonging the use of fossil fuels, especially “clean” coal, and is now beginning to be abandoned as an idea. Now that we are facing a global climate emergency, we no longer have the time to a create another costly, even if somewhat cheaper, technological version of CCS.

      Sequestration in natural carbon sinks—-whether via preservation, restoration or expansion—-can be achieved at a fraction of the cost of any current form of CCS. This will more than likely also be the case even if a new somewhat cheaper form of CCS is invented in the future.

      Besides, the cost of new wind power on the best onshore wind sites is already less than the cost of new natural gas plants and far less than the cost of new coal plants, let alone new natural gas or new coal plants accompanied by CCS. As for our existing fossil fuel plants, instead of prolonging their life with high-priced CCS technologies, the money should be spent on far less expensive energy efficiency, on wind and solar, on the electrification of cars and trains, on the lightweighting of land, sea, and air vehicles, on heat pumps, on passive house designs and retrofits, on the use of renewable electricity to create industrial process heat, etc.

      Finally, as for our need to still create additional global “CCS” capacity, once an initial, more affordable investment is made in either the restoration or expansion of a natural carbon sink, the additional amount of natural sequestration capacity then becomes a nearly free ecoservice. This kind of natural “CCS” can be achieved through widescale reforestation (creating diverse not single species forests in the most advantageous climate zones, regions, and ecosystems), a certain amount of afforestation, the restoration of wild grasslands, soil restoration on a global scale, soil restoration with biochar, no till and low till farming methods, etc.

  • Nice talks. Only a handfull of countries are going to do anything because they want to reduce their economical dependence on ff and renewables have become cheap. Billions of euros are spent on economical ‘growth’ (bazookas and ff subsidies as ‘proved’ recipes) and saving greedy banks. Small change is available for ‘sustainability’. Its not only fossils that assure our extinction but every other natural resource that falls under the infinite growth paradigm that is serving no one. Who is actually on target with the last agreements?

      • Thanks Kevin, next to the data supporting the notion that big players do not or hardly live up to their pledges (by accident?), I think even in the EU most countries do little more than they think the economy permits them. It will probably take another five to ten years of growing awareness (crises, loss of lifestyle) until climate action accelleration will cick in for real. Indicative is the ghg growth of china while having about the biggest share in developing renewable sources. Better late then never?

  • It is a big ship so you can look at this one of three ways
    1) Optimist – we have started to turn. Not that RE prices are down and dropping the process will speed up. Change will accelerate, and we will start hitting positive feedback loops. Coal is already on the ropes, and US fracking bubble could pop in 5-10 years. All it will take is everyone helping as best they can.
    2) Pessimist – already got 1 degree done. World leader waking up too late, and developing world will want their day in the FF “free ride”. Kill me now.
    3) Magic – After being bitch slapped by weather the last 20 years and getting a kidney punch in the next 10. Mother nature, will be nice and give us a mini ice age. Giving us more time to make (1) happen.

    Bottom line work like crazy on (1) or leave the earth early and get out of the way.

    • A grim future indeed. We are part of natures correcting feedback loop that puts our nose on the fact that Mother Nature can do without us. Our demise will eventually stop our devastating ideologies. For now economy and vested interests determine the real agenda of the powerful in Paris.

  • The INDCs can only be described in one way: they are unconscionable in the degree of their “millennial” irresponsibility, as well as in their apparent ignorance of the climate science.

    (1) We are already at 0.9 degrees C.
    (2) The loss of the cooling effect of aerosols alone, which will occur when we stop burning fossil fuels, will raise global temperatures another 0.75 degrees C.
    (3) The additional solar heat that is now stored in the sea and that will be released after a period of 25 to 50 years will add another 0.6 degrees C to the mix.

    Today, those three items alone already put us at 2.25 degrees C warming (both “existing” and “committed”) and that does not even count the slow feedbacks other than marine heat (i.e., from the loss of ice albedo) or even the most serious carbon feedbacks (such as the methane that will be released from the melting of the permafrost).

    Thus, when all of those climate feedbacks are taken into account, we are, quite likely, already at this point, TODAY, either at or beyond the supposedly “future” 2.7 degree C limit that the Paris Conference—-which has essentially been ignoring the science of climate feedbacks and committed warming—-is now prating about, while, at the same time, often patting itself on the back, yet stabbing the rest of us, collectively, in the same part of our anatomy.

    Journalists and citizen activists need to inform themselves ASAP about the current state of climate science, and try, if they can, to wake up. Even the staid and sober British Foreign Office is now saying that, on our present course, we are facing the possibility of a “global social collapse” by the year 2040 because of grain shortages, which, of course, year by year, will be worsened by climate change.

    Hansen says that in light of the issue of climate feedbacks and committed warming, we have a mere 15 years to decarbonize so that the earth’s carbon sinks, both on land and at sea, can remove, little by little—-yet as quickly as is possibile—-the added ppm of CO2 that are now in the air.

    All talk of the year “2050” as a target date for decarbonization is risible. As for the year “2100,” it is beyond laughable.

    I repeat: the current international political debate in Paris is almost entirely devoid of all rational and comprehensive climatological understanding:

    It all but ignores the issue of climate feedbacks (except some of the fast ones that had already been measured in 1979, i.e., in “climate change antiquity,” by Charney and Hansen). It also entirely ignores the slow feedbacks (marine heat and ice albedo), the most serious carbon feedbacks (such as Arctic methane) as well as the full temperature of the loss of the cooling aerosols (such as sulfates from the burning of coal).

    Finally, the international political debate all but ignores the issue of the full range of the earth’s current “committed warming,” which is to say, the future warming that is already “baked into” the climate system and that will still occur even if we stop emitting carbon as of today.

    This is why the supposed “limits” on the earth’s “future” temperature that are now being discussed at the Paris Conference are risible and entirely unscientific.

    The world is apparently being run by a mad King Lear.

    • 1) That’s higher than most numbers I’ve seen; AR 5 has .8, depending on baseline.

      2) Do you have a source for the claim that the loss of aerosol cooling would result in .75 degrees of warming? I’ve not heard that, couldn’t find a reference when I searched that said that, and find it hard to imagine how we could currently know that to such precision, given the considerable uncertainties: “There is a very low confidence for the trend in the total aerosol forcing during the past two to three decades, even the sign; however, there is high confidence that the offset from aerosol forcing to WMGHG forcing during this period was much smaller than over the 1950–1980 period.”

      3) Ditto for the claim that in 25-50 years heat to the tune of 0.6 C will somehow ‘be released” from ocean to atmosphere? That’s not in accord with what I’ve read over the years from RealClimate and the like. For instance:

      “…the deep ocean will not release any heat in the next thousand years but rather continue to absorb heat. In his response at Dot Earth, Victor replied that I had “plucked this sentence out of context”. However, in their article there simply is no context that would explain how “energy stored in the deep oceans will be released over decades or centuries” or how this would make it “a good proxy for the long-term risk”.”

      – See more at:

      That’s not to say that the INDCs are just hunky-dory and all is well in Whoville, of course. But if you are right I’d like to understand why, and if you are wrong then I think we’re better off not making things seem even worse than they actually are.

      • The 0.75 degree C figure that I gave for aerosols is my own average of the three studies that I have seen referenced on the subject of the additional warming that is likely to occur in the future from the loss of the current global aerosol emissions. From memory, I recall that one study gave 1 degree C as its scientific estimate, a second study (by Gerard Roe who is teaching at the University of Washington) gave 0.9 degrees C as its estimate, and the third study gave a range of from 0.25 degrees to 0.5 degrees C (I transformed this range into an average of its high and low figures, which thereby became 0.375 degrees C).

        The average of the figures from the three different studies—1 degree, 0.9 degrees and 0.375 degrees—-is 0.75833 degrees C, which, perhaps somewhat capriciously, I decided to round down to 0.75 degrees C so that it would simply be a number that is “somewhere between” 0.7 and 0.8 degrees C. I decided to do this especially because my average is not based on a comprehensive survey of all the peer-reviewed literature on aersols, but only on three different scientific studies.

        As for the “level of confidence” on the issue of aersol warming, be it “low,” “high” or “in between,” the best way to attain an at least somewhat higher level of confidence on such a scientific issue when it is still unresolved is to do a comprehensive survey of all the peer-reviewed literature and to take the average of the various numerical findings and then to consider this average to be a “reasonable reflection,” at least to some degree, of the still undefined “current scientific consensus” on the issue.

        • Sorry that I kept misspelling “aerosols.”


      • The 0.6 degree figure on future warming from the release of marine heat is from a study by Hansen.

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