Bicycle Taxi In Paris What is the Status of National Processes to Define post-2020 Emission Reduction Targets?

Last week, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the so-called ‘Climate Change 2014 Synthesis Report’ of its fifth scientific climate assessment since 1990 thereby updating its 2007 climate assessment (Breaking Energy IPCC coverage here). You guessed right – according to this full synthesis report we continue to slide down slowly but surely towards the virtual ‘climatic abyss’ or in the words of the scientists who explain what will happen without more aggressive emissions reduction:

“Many aspects of climate change and associated impacts will continue for centuries, even if anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are stopped. The risks of abrupt or irreversible changes increase as the magnitude of the warming increases. {2.4}”

According to the report, fundamental measures in order to achieve such mitigation goals include “decarbonizing (i.e., reducing the carbon intensity of) electricity generation (…) as well as efficiency enhancements and behavioral changes, in order to reduce energy demand (…) compared to baseline scenarios without compromising development.” Most notably, in the majority of scenarios the report refers to as “lowconcentration stabilization scenarios” the share of lowcarbon electricity supply, which explicitly includes nuclear energy as well as carbon capture and storage (CCS), “increases from the current share of approximately 30% to more than 80% by 2050, and fossil fuel power generation without CCS is phased out almost entirely by 2100. {4.3}”

If nothing else, one important conclusion can be drawn here. Focusing alone on 2020 emission reduction targets appears to be myopic in light of both the changes required to the energy mix in “just” a ‘low concentration stabilization scenario’ and the above given underlying time frames – obviously only if one accepts the premise that climate change is already happening. Unsurprisingly, given these scientific and international realities the Australian Climate Institute calls on policymakers around the globe in a new report, which examines the evolving international climate framework, to turn” the political dial to post-2020 and ultimate decarbonisation targets”. “By just focusing on 2020 emission and renewable energy goals, the recent political debate has ignored growing scientific, investment, and international realities. This short-term focus is simply a high-risk approach to the significant challenges of decarbonising our economy and helping avoid dangerous impacts for Australia,” said Erwin Jackson, Deputy CEO of The Climate Institute.

Thus, what started with an initiative of the EU and the most vulnerable – i.e., to the impacts of climate change – developing nations in South Africa – at the Durban climate conference – in December 2011, is intended to lead to a new international climate change agreement covering all parties to a protocol currently negotiated through a process known as the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action. This global agreement is supposed to be adopted in December 2015 at the Paris climate conference and implemented from 2020 onwards.

Now, will over 190 countries and their governments with different national interests follow through and work together in order to – at a minimum – avoid a warming of 2ºC above pre-industrial levels? In the very informative tables below the Climate Institute gives a status update of national processes to define post-2020 emission reduction targets in crucial stakeholder countries. The latter will be instrumental in securing a successful and meaningful agreement at the climate summit in Paris 2015.

Status of National Processes to Define post-2020 Emission Reduction Targets

Status of National Processes 1


Status of National Processes 2

Source: The Climate Institute (Australia); Note: National 2050 targets are included as they are likely to provide reference points for countries’ post-2020 emission goals (Information current as of September 2014).

Note, the EU has agreed in October 2014 on its 2030 climate and energy goals. The agreed targets include a reduction in CO2 emissions by at least 40 per cent by 2030 on 1990 levels, an EU-wide binding target for renewable energy of at least 27 per cent and an indicative energy efficiency target of also at least 27 per cent. Some call these figures “anything but ambitious” and question how the EU intends to achieve its longer-term 2050 climate goals. Nevertheless, among the developed nations the EU member states are among the first to set their post-2020 contributions to reducing global CO2 emissions in stone and expose themselves to international scrutiny.

This was followed up on the fringes of the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) summit in Beijing, on November 12, by a surprise joint US-China announcement of respective targets and/or both countries’ pledged contributions for cutting CO2 emissions driving climate change with respect to the post-2020 period. President Obama said “that the United States has set a new goal of reducing our net greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by the year 2025.” Chinese President Xi, in turn, laid out his plan “to peak Chinese CO2 emissions around 2030” with a further commitment “to make best efforts to peak early”. Additionally, China intends to expand the “share of zero-emission sources in primary energy, namely renewables and nuclear, to 20% by 2030.” In this regard, see the cogent analyses on the topic by CFR’s Michael Levi and Vox’s Brad Plumer as well as Breaking Energy coverage.

Germany Plans 40 New Coal-Fired Power Plants

Prima facie, this is definitely good news and a starting point for the negotiating process – initiated in Durban – along the long road to Paris and a legally binding international agreement (‘protocol’), but no reason for ‘climatic’ euphoria. The above targets are based on pledges and therefore neither legally binding nor enforceable. As far as domestic implementation goes, China with its authoritative state capitalism and single-party system may ironically have the edge over the US with a ‘lame duck’ president who will need the help of a now Republican-controlled Congress in order to make ‘saving the climate’ a meaningful ‘legacy item’ of his presidency. And here it becomes interesting. Remember when the Clinton Administration ‘agreed’ to the Kyoto Protocol at the end of 1997 and President Clinton signed it on November 12, 1998 against strong congressional reservations that this global treaty would harm the US economy? Just like back then, a new global climate treaty/protocol requires ratification by the US Senate in order to take effect. At this point in time, it is hard to see a viable path for that happening – thus, preventing US domestic implementation. Moreover, this domestic political factor only further weakens the US bargaining position vis-à-vis developing countries in reaching a meaningful global agreement. Thus, expect eventual lower targets and a watered-down agreement in Paris 2015.

The coming year should be very interesting and time will tell where the common denominator  – i.e., where all those post-2020 targets merge – is to be found in terms of dealing with climate change among UN member states and with what respective degree of urgency. The Climate Institute report puts it perhaps best in describing the high stakes at hand: “For any policy to remain stable and effective it needs to be relevant not just for the next five years, but for the next 50 years. Failure to deliver a proper plan risks institutionalising investment uncertainty, and a much more rapid – and therefore more disruptive – decarbonisation at a later date.” In sum, here the operative words are ‘proper [global] plan’ – i.e., in contrast to words like ‘unclear’ or ‘uncertain’ (see tables above) – along with the stern warning that any hesitation now may cost mankind dearly.