On February 27, Switzerland became the first nation to officially submit its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC), under the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, to the UNFCCC. The summary of Switzerland’s national commitment to the global climate solution reads as follows:
Switzerland commits to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2030 compared to 1990 levels, corresponding to an average reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 35 percent over the period 2021–2030. By 2025, a reduction of greenhouse gases by 35 percent compared to 1990 levels is anticipated. Carbon credits from international mechanisms will partly be used. The INDC is subject to approval by Parliament. The methodological approaches underlying the Swiss INDC are included in this communication.
One week later, on March 6, 2015, Latvia (holding the EU presidency) and the European Union released the INDC for the EU and its 28 member states. The summary reads as follows:
The EU and its Member States are committed to a binding target of an at least 40% domestic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 1990, to be fulfilled jointly, as set out in the conclusions by the European Council of October 2014. In line with the Lima Call for Climate Action, in particular its paragraph 14, the following quantifiable information is hereby submitted…
A reduction of 50% below 1990 emissions levels by 2035, or of 40% below 1990 levels by 2030, is aggressive enough that if all nations adopted this standard, we could be on track to achieve the necessary reductions by 2050 to keep the increase in global average temperatures to below the 2ºC standard called for by the UNFCCC process. Emerging major polluters, like China and India (China is now the world’s largest emitter of CO2), if they were to follow the same standard for reduction below 1990 levels, would drastically reduce the world’s total carbon footprint.
This, however, is where things get tricky: the global climate negotiating process has been built around an assumption that the biggest historic emitters must make the biggest contribution to total current reductions. It is certainly true that the biggest historic emitters have a greater responsibility for addressing the problem and cutting their total emissions, but some are calling for a transition to a new way of thinking about how to write targets into the INDCs:
For big historic emitters, a percentage of 1990 emissions makes sense, but that also corresponds to a total amount of emissions per capita. For nations whose carbon footprint has expanded significantly since 1990, the percentage below 1990 may be much harder to reach, so a focus on total emissions per capita could be a more useful metric. If all nations on Earth were to reduce their per capita greenhouse gas emissions to 1 metric ton per capita, by 2050, estimates suggest we would be able to keep total warming to under 2ºC, as required by the Framework Convention.
Aiming for 1 ton per capita by 2050 could allow nations with major new expansion of emissions to chart a clear path to a climate-smart future.
The Lima Call for Climate Action, importantly, added a new, alternate upper limit for global average temperature rise of 1.5ºC. The Lima text does not replace the 2ºC limit with 1.5ºC, but adds the new limit for consideration, as a marker for raising ambitions and accelerating a transition away from emissions-intensive practices.
Many worry that other nations may not adopt such ambitious reductions, for various reasons, so four things become central to our reading and relaying of these pledges:
- INDCs have to be more than pledges; they have to be action.
- We need as many capable non-state actors engaged as possible (citizens, NGOs, businesses, subnational governments).
- We need to translate emissions cuts into deployment figures (how much energy, achieved by what means, how quickly and how affordably).
- A reminder that escalating ambition is economic opportunity; ambitious climate leadership benefits all nations.
As we go forward, the Pathway to Paris project will provide concrete support to all four of these priorities, by connecting collaborators, collating and analyzing detailed reports, and building a network for distributed support for enhanced action.