Is the Paris climate deal in peril after major nations miss UN deadline? Opinion Article

Apr 02, 2015 - 2:01pm

This article was first published i n Carbon Pulse on 2 April 2015. 

Erwin Jackson    
Deputy CEO, The Climate Institute

Countries that account for over a quarter of global emissions met the first deadline for communicating their post-2020 targets to the UN. We expect more soon, but more wealthy countries like Australia, Japan, and Canada should have been ready to advance their initial offers by March 31.

Having said this, we can’t just judge the pre-Paris process on when the targets are advanced. What matters more is whether the information shared with the international community meets the letter and spirit of the agreements made in Lima last year.

On that front there are some good signs (with some exceptions). Based on the information provided by the first round of countries to advance a target, there is greater transparency in the targets as they are justified against the global goal of limiting warming to less than 2°C. This is stark contrast to the targets announced before Copenhagen. The lack of transparency to those targets – which were mostly only justified against countries’ domestic circumstances – underminded trust and transparency.

The countries that are now advancing targets towards Paris are setting the standard for other to follow.

For example, the United States is targeting a 26-28% cut in emissions below 2005 levels by 2025, and to “make best efforts” to hit the top of its target range. To achieve even the lower target, it must double its rate of emissions reductions compared to the rate previously required to achieve its 2020 target of 17% below 2005 levels. This is a genuine progression of ambition — an important criterion for targets as defined by the Lima Call for Climate Action agreed on by countries last year.

This sets an important marker for countries like Australia, Japan and Canada who may be tempted just to define progression as target marginally stronger than their last one.

Australia’s government intends to put forth an initial target by mid-year, but the consultation process it just launched around how to define the post-2020 target included scenarios of 4°C, not 2°C.

Australia is in a tough position. With a weak minimum 2020 target of only 5% reductions on 2000 levels, it starts from a low point, and has a massive gap to close if it’s to match the efforts of heavy hitters like the US and the EU.

For example, translating the US target for 2025 to a base year of 2000 (the base year for Australia’s targets) gives around a 30% reduction in emissions below 2000 levels. This scale of reduction is well beyond Australia’s current minimum target of 5% by 2020, but less than that required to be a fair contribution to the internationally agreed goal of limiting global warming to less than 2°C.

We should be travelling faster to Paris but we are importantly starting to get a better look at our travelling companions.

Erwin Jackson

Erwin is Deputy CEO of The Climate Institute. With nearly 20 years practical experience in climate change policy and research, Erwin has developed and led many national and international programs aimed at reducing greenhouse pollution. This work has been undertaken in Australia, Europe, North and South America, the Pacific and Antarctica. He has represented non-governmental groups and advised government and business in national, regional and international fora, including being a non-governmental expert reviewer of the reports of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Erwin has written, researched and produced many publications on climate change and energy policy including a number of review papers in scientific journals such as the Medical Journal of Australia.
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