Looming deadlines – for INDCs and the Earth

With the October 1 deadline for all State Parties’ Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) looming, the UNFCCC submission portal for them has been heating up.  As of this writing, 82 State Parties have filed.

Switzerland, the EU, Norway, Mexico, and the United States were the first five in the door, submitting before the first quarter 2015 deadline for developed countries. By the World Resources Instituteclose of June, the world’s highest emitter, China, filed its 18-page INDC complete with mitigation, adaptation, and finance goals as well as detailed description of the national and subnational initiatives to reach them. It joined 10 other countries who submitted INDCs during the second quarter of 2015. This group included Russia and Australia.  Since then, 66 more countries who are UNFCCC State Parties have submitted INDCs, representing a wide variety of other developing and developed countries on every continent.  Now that Brazil and Indonesia have filed their INDCs, all but one of the top emitting countries – whether measured from 1850 or 1990 – have now publicly pledged actions at home and abroad to keep global warming to within the 2C limit announced at COP16 in Cancun, Mexico.  India is the lone hold out.

But have they announced contributions that will keep us below 2C?  All along, Climate Action Tracker has assessed the pledges in terms of what they do and don’t achieve in terms of GHG emissions mitigation and the global goal.   CAT rates each country in terms of sufficiency of pledges on a scale from “inadequate” to “role model.”  Thus far, no developed countries have earned the top title.  Only a handful have earned the white ribbon label of CAT_thermometer_20141207“medium,” along with specific direction on how to increase the ambition of their pledges.  Totaling INDCs filed by June 30, CAT concludes that if countries should do what they pledge, global warming would rise to 2.9 – 3.1C by 2100.  While this is an improvement over the business-as-usual (BAU) prediction of 4.1 – 4.8C and projections made on climate change mitigation policies currently in place of 3.6 – 4.2C, it still exceeds 2C and the 1.5C preferred by low lying island states threatened now by rising sea levels.

Yesterday’s New York Times echoed this theme under the headline “Limited Progress Seen Even as More Nations Step Up on Climate Change.”  It reports that Climate Interactive has released a scoreboard analyzing pledges made through September 29th.  The result?  Very similar to CAT’s thermometer reading above:  3.5C or half way between the pledges and the current COP21 logopolicy trends medians. (Full disclosure:  we’re darned proud and not at all unduly influenced to learn that Climate Interactive, which operates out of MIT, was founded by members of Norwich, Vermont-based Donella Meadows Institute.) U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is quoted as saying on Sunday “that Paris must be the floor, not the ceiling, for collective ambition.” Gavin A. Schmidt of NASA put it more colloquially.  Looking back on the last 40 years of environmental cleanup, he opined that “by the time people get 10, 15 years of actually trying to do something, that’s going to lead to greater expertise, better technology, more experience, people will then say, ‘Oh, you know what? We can commit to do more.’”

Oh, and the NYT closed with India’s environment minister, Prakash Javadekar, promising its INDC on Oct. 1 —  the day before the country’s national celebration of Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday.