Paris Pledges Need Improvement

Analysis by Ron Israel and Lois Barber, Co-chairs of the Citizen’s 2015 Global Climate Agreement Campaign.

The 21st United Nations sponsored Conference of the Parties (COP21) will be held in Paris this December. The goal of COP21 is to produce the first meaningful, legally binding international climate treaty since the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. As we have already seen, a global average surface temperature rise of 0.8 º Celsius above pre-industrial levels and another 0.5 º Celsius are already in the system, due to ongoing greenhouse gas emissions.

Paris will likely be the last chance we have to enact meaningful climate action to prevent the world from passing over the scientifically agreed upon 2º Celsius tipping point. Passing the 2º Celsius tipping point point would result in extreme and unpredictable weather that would be disastrous for much of life on Earth. 

Countries have agreed to make greenhouse gas reduction pledges, called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC), in advance of COP21. These pledges will guide the negotiations. Each nation’s contribution is to be determined by national circumstance.  Unfortunately, no firm standards were set regarding pledges. Therefore we should all be concerned that, to date, many countries have made weak pledges that exploit this ambiguity. 

We are the Coordinators of the Citizens’ 2015 Global Climate Agreement Campaign-a Campaign organized to keep citizens, environmental leaders, and policymakers around the world informed about and engaged on the status of country pledges and other issues related to the success of COP21. We share our resarch and reporting through collaborative projects like the Citizens’ Climate Lobby Pathway to Paris Project. We’ve set standards we believe national COP21 pledges should reach. These standards are as follows: 

Industrialized countries should use their 2010 level of carbon emissions as a baseline, and pledge to reduce their emissions from that baseline by at least 25% by the year 2025. In addition, they should pledge further reductions in five-year increments, i.e., 40% by 2030, etc.  These standards already have been met in the pledge of the European Union.

Less-industrialized countries should use their 2010 level of carbon emissions as a baseline, and pledge to reduce their emissions from that baseline by at least 15% by the year 2025. In addition, they should pledge further reductions in five-year increments, i.e., 25% by 2030, etc.  

All countries should pledge to meet their national energy needs with 100% renewable energy by 2050. 

All pledges should adhere to the UN Framework Convention standards of “fairness,”  “escalating ambition” and “transparency.”  

To date, 65 countries have made pledges—28 of these are European Union member states, submitting jointly—to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions over the next ten to thirty-five years. None of these countries meet all of our criteria, and most fall woefully short. The pledges being made have one or more of the following failings: 

Many countries do not use the 2010 baseline year recommended by the IPCC 5th Assessment Report. Instead, they use an arbitrary date of their own choosing, or use a business-as-usual model as a baseline. The details and emission reduction targets in pledges made using the business-as-usual model fail to take into account changes in population growth and domestic production. 

Some pledges fail to meet the basic emission reduction targets for 2025 and 2030 that are set forth above.  

Many have failed to include effective [domestic] carbon pricing policy instruments, and rely too heavily on international emissions trading schemes based on permits and credits to meet their targets. In doing so these countries are avoiding making significant domestic greenhouse gas reductions and incentivizing the continued use artificially cheap fossil fuels.

Some countries use forest sequestration to meet their targets, which can enable them to avoid having to make reductions in their current domestic greenhouse gas emission levels.

Many pledges are conditioned on other factors, such as the provision of technical and financial resources or the continuation of a rise in GDP. Others fail to identify the policies they will use to implement their pledges. Every pledge made so far has failed to commit to an economy based on 100% renewable energy by 2050.

Although only 65 of 196 countries have to date come forward with pledges, the nature of the pledges made so far leave us concerned that COP21 will fail to produce an agreement that will stabilize the Earth’s climate. Some industrial countries such as Canada, Russia South Korea, and New Zealand have offered pledges that provide minimal reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Other countries that on the surface appear to be making robust pledges, such as the US and the EU, have flaws in the ways in which they account for their reductions or offer few specifics on the policies needed to implement their pledges. 

Only three countries so far have offered pledges that exemplify the kind of commitments that we feel are needed for the success of a new global climate agreement—The Marshall Islands, Monaco and the State of Jersey, which is a British Crown Dependency but has rights to self-governance. We have posted the pledges of the Marshall Islands, Monaco and Jersey in the Climate Policy Hall of Fame section of our campaign website.  

We appreciate the spirit with which COP21 has been organized, and its commitment to supporting a bottom-up, differentiated approach to pledges and building a new agreement. However, there is a danger that such an approach, left unguarded and unguided, will result in an agreement that few will see as a step forward. 

The organizers of COP21, governments, NGOs, and other key stakeholders groups worldwide should take the opportunity leading up to COP21 to reexamine the pledges that have been made and strengthen them wherever possible. In addition guidance should be offered to those countries that haven’t yet made pledges to submit them and meet the standards set forth above. Information about each nation’s pledge can be found at

Ron Israel
Executive Director
The Global Citizens’ Initiative

Lois Barber
Executive Director

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  • CitizensClimateNet
    published this page in Blog 2015-08-30 19:49:59 -0400