The national pledges were required under the Copenhagen Accord agreed at the climate change talks in Copenhagen in December. The pledges were made for the period after the end of 2012 when the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol emissions targets expires.
"The commitment to confront climate change at the highest level is beyond doubt," said UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer. "These pledges have been formally communicated to the UNFCCC. Greater ambition is required to meet the scale of the challenge. But I see these pledges as clear signals of willingness to move negotiations towards a successful conclusion."
"This represents an important invigoration of the UN climate change talks under the two tracks of Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention and the Kyoto Protocol, said de Boer, the UN's top climate negotiator.
Expanding desert in Africa stretches across Mali and Burkina Faso. (Photo by Breaking the Cycle)
The main outcome of the UN climate change conference, the Copenhagen Accord was negotiated on the final day by the leaders of 28 developed and developing countries and the European Commission. These countries account for over 80 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. The conference then took official note of the Copenhagen Accord.
In their pledges, countries did not go beyond the commitments that many of them made at or before the Copenhagen summit. Yet countries retained the level of ambition in their earlier pledges, setting a basis for building additional commitment over the coming year.
The steepest emissions cut was pledged by Norway, which offered to cut greenhouse gases 30 to 40 percent below 1990 levels for the period beyond 2012 as long as major emitting Parties agree on emissions reductions in line with the 2°Celsius target.
Keeping the global temperature rise to 2°Celsius above the pre-industrial temperature, or around 1.2°C above today's level, is the level that most scientists say is necessary to avert the most catastrophic effects of climate change - the most severe floods, sea level rise, droughts and heat waves, disease migration and species extinctions.
Scientific evidence shows that to keep within the 2°C ceiling, global emissions of greenhouse gases will have to peak by 2020 at the latest, be cut by at least 50 percent of their 1990 levels by 2050, and then continue to decline.
Though the developed country targets pledged under the Copenhagen Accord fall short of these levels, if implemented, the cuts would reduce the emissions linked to climate change.
Japan pledged the next steepest cut of 25 percent below 1990 levels, while Russia pledged a 15 to 25 cut depending on accounting of the potential of Russia's forests to absorb the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.
The European Union repeated its unilateral commitment to reduce the EU's overall emissions by 20 percent of 1990 levels and a conditional offer to increase this cut to 30 percent provided that other major emitters agree to take on their fair share of a global reduction effort.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said, "The EU is determined to move ahead rapidly with implementing the Copenhagen Accord in order to make progress towards the agreement that we need to hold global warming below 2°C."
"The Accord provides a basis on which to build this future agreement and I therefore urge all countries to associate themselves with it and notify ambitious emission targets or actions for inclusion as we are doing," said Barroso.
European Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said, "Swift action is needed to make operational key elements of the Accord such as fast-start financing for developing countries, the fight against deforestation and the development and transfer of low carbon technologies."
European heads of state and government will assess the post-Copenhagen situation at the Informal European Council on February 11.
Road sign in Australia (Photo by Quirinoviera)
Australia will reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent level 2000 levels by 2020 "if the world agrees to an ambitious global deal capable of stabilizing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at 450 parts per million carbon dioxide equivalent or lower."
The United States and Canada each pledged a 17 percent cut below 2005 levels.
The U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern said Thursday, "The Copenhagen Accord includes important advances on funding, technology, forestry, adaptation and transparency. The United States is committed to working with our partners around the world to make the Accord operational and to continue the effort to build a strong, science-based, global regime to combat the profound threat of climate change."
While a blizzard this week buried the east coast under inches of snow, that is no indication that global warming is abating. A new NASA analysis of global surface temperature shows 2009 was tied for the second warmest year in the modern record. The analysis, conducted by the Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City, also shows that in the Southern Hemisphere, 2009 was the warmest year since modern records began in 1880.
Canada was the only developed country to reduce its emissions pledge, scaling it back from 20 percent to 17 percent. The new pledge amounts to a 2.5 emissions increase above 1990 levels.
If global sea level rise amounts to 39", the areas in red will be susceptible to inundation. (Map by Weiss & Overpeck University of Arizona)
The Harper government has a pattern of announcing climate plans and then failing to implement needed measures to meet them, says the nonprofit Council of Canadians. Cabinet documents leaked in December indicated that the government plans to allow emissions from the tar sands to increase.
The developing countries pledged a variety of voluntary actions that are intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Brazil pledged to reduce Amazon deforestation, restore grazing lands, and increase the use of biofuels.
China pledged to lower its carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by 40-45 percent by 2020 compared to the 2005 level, increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 15 percent by 2020 and increase forest coverage by 40 million hectares and forest stock volume by 1.3 billion cubic meters by 2020 from the 2005 levels.
India pledged to reduce the emissions intensity of its GDP by 20-25 percent by 2020 in comparison to the 2005 level.
Indonesia pledged to aim for an emissions reduction of 26 percent by 2020 by sustainable peat land management, reduction in rate of deforestation and shift to low-emissions transportation and renewable energy.
South Africa pledged to reduce emissions 34 percent by 2020 and 42 percent by 2025 below a "business as usual" growth trajectory.
Jennifer Morgan, director of the World Resources Institute's Climate and Energy Program, is one of many environmentalists urging governments to do more.
"Following a month of uncertainty, it is now clear that the Copenhagen Accord will support the world in moving forward to meaningful global action on climate change," said Morgan. "However, although important in showing the intent to move to a low-carbon economy, the commitments are far below what is needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. The level of ambition must be ratcheted up if the world is to avoid dangerous levels of warming."
Click here to see the pledges of developed countries.
Click here to see the pledges of developing countries.
The next round of formal UNFCCC negotiations is set for Bonn, Germany, at the end of May 2010. De Boer said several countries have indicated their wish to see a quick return to the negotiations with more meetings than the scheduled sessions.
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