UN Sees Promise In Country Climate Plans, Even As Some Go Up In Smoke

Steve Zwick

The United Nations today released its tally of all but 10 of the climate plans that countries have released to-date. If implemented, they’ll slash greenhouse gas emissions by 4 billion tonnes annually, but the announcement came under a cloud as Indonesia’s burning forests have already spewed 1 billion tonnes this year. That certainly wasn’t part of their plan, and it highlights the difference between ambition and achievement.

30 October 2015 | On Monday, Indonesian president Joko Widodo cut short his first official visit to the United States to deal with his country’s burning peat forests, which pumped more greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere in the last month than the entire country of Japan did in the last year. Guido van der Werf of the Global Fire Emissions Database estimates that Indonesia’s 100,000 fires have pumped 1 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere this year – even as the country’s climate action plan puts deforestation in the “yesterday’s news” category.

On Wednesday, Greenpeace announced that a massive fire has been raging in the Brazilian Amazon for two months and already devoured almost half of the million-acre Arariboia Indigenous Reserve. If that report is true, then one fire alone has sent another 30 million metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere – even as Brazil’s climate action plan neutralizes efforts to attract international forest funding from carbon markets.

Today, the United Nations released its tally of all the climate action plans submitted before October 1, and UN Climate Boss Christiana Figueres summarized the findings in three numbers:

If fully implemented, these INDCs would bring us to a per-capita reduction of 8% by 2025 and 9% by 2030,” she said, emphasizing the if. “As a whole, if implemented, they represent 4 gigatonnes of emission-reductions globally.”

INDCs are UN lingo for “Intended Nationally-Determined Contributions”, which are the action plans that countries have been submitting all year, and most estimates say they’re good enough to prevent global temperatures from rising more than 2.7°C over the next century. That’s an improvement over the 4-5°C projected under a business-as-usual scenario, but still well below the 2°C threshold beyond which all bets are off.

“It is a step,” said Figueres. “It is a remarkable step, but it is not enough.”


Race to the Top

She emphasized that the Paris talks, which begin on November 30, are different from previous talks, because they are designed to create a framework within which INDCs can become more aggressive.

“Paris needs to have two components,” she said. “First, governments must decide how they are going to gather all of these INDCs and how are they are going to anchor them in the agreement [that comes out of Paris].”

The second piece, she said, is to make sure the agreement is dynamic enough to move the process forward

“We already know that these INDCs do not get us under 2 degrees,” she said. “But within the Paris agreement, we’ll be building a path of progressive, incremental effort – of continuous improvement and periodic review.”

The Role of Markets

Research from Ecosystem Marketplace, to be released in next week’s State of Forest Carbon Markets Report, shows that more than 50 developing countries have offered to generate more aggressive targets if they receive funding from the developed world, and nearly 30 of these explicitly mention REDD+ finance, which is aimed at protecting forests – a critical component, in light of the fires now ravaging Indonesia and Brazil.

German environment minister Jochen Flasbarth emphasized that more than $100 billion in developed-world funding has already been committed to that effort, and that his country has committed $10 billion.

Steve Zwick is a freelance writer and produces the Bionic Planet podcast. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Ecosystem Marketplace, and prior to that he covered European business for Time Magazine and Fortune Magazine and produced the award-winning program Money Talks on Deutsche Welle Radio in Bonn, Germany.

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If INDCs have you baffled, be sure to check out our coverage from last week’s talks in Bonn.

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