Current climate commitments post-2020 are not enough to stay below 2°C, study says

After the last round of international climate talks in Lima highlighted the difficulties in reaching a consensus position even in a more auspicious atmosphere than what we’ve seen the past few years, the attention now turns to the next COP21 in Paris where all countries are due to agree on a new comprehensive climate framework. Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), i.e. domestic targets and plans to limit GHG emissions each country “is invited” to provide before April 2015, are at the core of the expected new climate deal that will substitute the Kyoto Protocol and, if ratified next year, should enter into force in 2020.

Achieving an effective agreement will require substancial additional efforts both from developed and developing countries (and it is worth noting that the historic boundary between the two categories is progressively blurring also at international negotiations level). In the final text agreed in Lima all parties to UNFCCC note “with grave concern the significant gap between the aggregate effect of Parties’ mitigation pledges in terms of global annual emissions of greenhouse gases by 2020 and aggregate emission pathways consistent with having a likely chance of holding the increase in global average temperature below 2 °C or 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels”.

This gap was extensively investigated in a study conducted by a team of six European research institutions coordinated by FEEM and recently published on the journal Nature Climate Change. The research focus on the negotations within the UNFCCC Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (or ADP, established in 2011 with the mandate to develop “a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force” committing all UNFCCC parties to reduce GHG emissions starting from 2020). The study is one of the most comprehensive assessments of the timing and amount of greenhouse gas emissions that each of the world’s major economies could produce under different scenarios and highlights the challenges on the road from Lima to Paris. According to the joint press release by FEEM, PIK, IIASA and PBL, “currently proposed climate policy pledges are an important step forward but fall short of 2°C. Pledges to reduce emissions in China, Europe and the US provide an important step forward for climate change action, but a more comprehensive effort is needed to stabilize the climate below critical thresholds”.

The main findings of the three-years research project (detailed in a complementary Policy Brief and summarised in video series released by FEEM) consider the feasibility of the 2°C target, the different challenges between countries and regions in undertaking strict mitigation pathways and the options for pursuing both efficiency and equity goals by an international carbon price system designed for burden sharing based on per-capita emissios or on the economic capacity.

“The IPCC AR5 report has clearly highlighted the level of global effort needed to stabilize the climate,” says Massimo Tavoni (Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei and Politecnico di Milano) who coordinated the project. “But a quantitative assessment of the regional implications of post 2020 climate policies, which brings together different modeling tools was missing. This is what the paper has achieved”.“Reducing emissions while limiting costs requires a significant contribution from developing countries. This could create unfair distribution of costs. Compensatory measures could address these”, Tavoni adds in the official release.

“In our 2°C scenarios, global emissions peak around 2020. This is in clear contrast to our other scenarios projecting forward the pledges currently discussed by the major economies. They lead to a peaking of global emissions around or after 2040” says Elmar Kriegler, senior scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and co-leader of the study. “A large part of the emission reductions, if to be realized at lowest cost, would come from emerging economies such as China or India. The implication is clear. If a future climate agreement aims to tap into these abatement potentials, it would likely need to include mechanisms to compensate developing countries for part of their abatement effort”.


(Image: Opening session of negotiations on the Durban Plafrom at the Bonn Climate Change Conference, June 2014. Photo credit: Adopt A Negotiator/Flickr)