Thursday, October 8, 2009

Comparability of Annex I Emission Reduction Pledges

WRI working papers contain preliminary research, analysis, findings, and recommendations. They are circulated to stimulate timely discussion and critical feedback and to influence ongoing debate on emerging issues. Most working papers are eventually published in another form and their content may be revised.

Significant commitments to reduce developed country greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) will be central to the realization of an effective post-2012 climate treaty in Copenhagen this December.

As the negotiations among the 191 Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) near their climax, emission reduction pledges have been put forward by major industrialized countries and economic blocs. These include the European Union (EU), Japan, Russia, New Zealand, and Australia. The US House of Representatives has also passed a bill containing emission reduction commitments, although this has yet to become national policy.

This Working Paper presents a comparative analysis of these pledges, which was performed with two key aims:

  • To enable negotiators from all countries to compare the emission reduction outcomes that would result from industrialized countries' pledges; and
  • To facilitate efforts to aggregate emission reduction pledges in order to calculate the global impact on the atmosphere.

The absence of details regarding some countries' mechanisms to achieve emission reductions (such as Japan's new pledge, and those of Russia and Belarus) present hurdles to measuring comparability. Countries will need to clarify how they plan to fulfill their pledges, especially with regard to the use of international offsets and inclusion of land use, land use change, forestry (LULUCF) emissions and reductions, if aggregate effort and comparability are to be effectively measured.

Nevertheless, this analysis provides a preliminary picture of where the world is headed in the run-up to Copenhagen. Our key conclusions and recommendations are listed below. Most importantly, we found that while developed country emission reduction pledges could have an important and potentially substantial impact, they will not be enough to meet even the lower range of emission reductions required for stabilizing concentrations of CO2e at 450 ppm and certainly fall very short of goals to reduce concentrations below that level.

Key Findings

Conclusion: Existing pledges by developed countries, when added together, could represent a substantial effort for reducing global emissions by 2020 – a 10-24% reduction of emissions below 1990 levels depending on the assumptions made about the details of the pledges. But they still fall short of the range of emission reductions – 25 to 40% – that the IPCC notes would be necessary for stabilizing concentrations of CO2e at 450 ppm, a level associated with a 52% risk of overshooting a 2ºC goal (Meinshausen 2005). If the pledges are not ratcheted up even beyond the highest pledges, this analysis shows that the additional reductions required between 2020 and 2050 would be significant, with emissions dropping roughly 2.5% annually to reach a goal of 80% below 1990 levels by mid-century.

Recommendation: Developed countries should bring forward more ambitious pledges. The Copenhagen agreement must make provisions for emergency and periodic science reviews to allow for more ambitious emission reduction commitments as the science dictates.

Conclusion: In assessing comparability, this analysis shows that the choice of metrics can have profound implications on a given country's ambition.

Recommendation: There is no single perfect way to assess comparability. Factors such as population growth and the use of offsets (as well as their integrity) will impact the effort and environmental effectiveness of a target. While comparability is best assessed by considering multiple dimensions of a target as we do here, we need to bear in mind that absolute emission reductions are ultimately what matters for reducing our impact on the climate.

Conclusion: In our analysis, we make the assumption that emission reductions achieved via international offsets contained in pledges, as well as forest-related emission reductions under the supplemental reduction program in the US bill, will be real and additional. These assumptions make an enormous difference for the scale of some country's emission reductions, such as that of the United States. Therefore, if international emission reductions play a major role in national targets, and they prove not to be real and additional, then pledges such as those in the emerging US bill will fall far short of how they appear at face value.

Recommendation: The implementation of high regulatory standards and the design of robust accounting rules are critical to ensure that international emission reductions, including offsets, proposed new sectoral mechanisms and forest provisions, are real and additional.

Conclusion: This analysis demonstrated the importance of resolving how LULUCF emissions are to be estimated before final commitments are determined. Emissions from the land use sector can vary significantly from year to year and the choice of including them, as well as the choice of a base year, can make a significant difference in defining the stringency of a given country's target. For example, when Canada's pledge is calculated below a 1990 base year and LULUCF is included, the pledge is one that allows for growth of emissions.

Recommendation: High and uniform standards for estimating and accounting for the land use sector's emissions will be essential if targets set by developed countries are to deliver the ambition and impacts that they claim. If LULUCF emissions are excluded in emission reduction pledges, it will be necessary to examine the net impact of pledges as well as emissions and sinks from LULUCF in order to provide an accurate measurement relevant to the state of the global climate.

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