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Promises, Promises: Climate INDCs Actually Better Than Expected

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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Written By

covers environmental, health, renewable and conventional energy, and climate change news. She's currently on the climate beat for Important Media, having attended last year's COP20 in Lima Peru. Sandy has also worked for groundbreaking environmental consultants and a Fortune 100 health care firm. She writes for several weblogs and attributes her modest success to an "indelible habit of poking around to satisfy my own curiosity."


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