COP-21: A summary of the pledges made so far

As 2014 was the hottest year on record, and 2015 is likely to surpass that, whilst 2013 broke all records for carbon pollution, there is a fair degree of urgency behind achieving a ground-breaking deal at the Paris Summit in December. Some countries have already ‘declared their hands’ by making pledges in advance of the talks. These give us a hint on the real state-of-play, ahead of COP-21.

Up until now, nearly 50 countries have filed their emissions reduction pledges to the UN, covering approximately 60% of the world’s emissions. They include the EU (28 countries, not one), the US, China, Canada, Russia, Australia, and Mexico. Key countries such as India and Brazil, have yet to make official their plans. The national contribution each country is prepared to make, is known at the UN as an Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC).

An important factor to look out for is the baseline year upon which such INDCs are made. Under the Kyoto Protocol, nearly all countries have previously tended to use the base year of 1990, which make pledges easier to compare. However, the US, China, and Canada have chosen 2005 as their baseline year, with the result that their promised cuts appear higher than they are in reality. Canada’s target, for instance, of 30% below 2005 levels, is equivalent to only 2% below 1990 levels. The US’s recently up-dated pledge of 32% carbon cuts on 2005 levels, still leaves it far behind the EU’s “at least 40% target”, by comparison.


China, has pledged to peak emissions by 2030, and cut levels of carbon emissions per unit of GDP by 60%-65% on 2005 levels, whilst boosting the share of renewables and nuclear in its energy-mix to 20%. Experts suggest that China’s goals are conservatively-expressed, and they may well, in the long-term achieve better results, as the Chinese like to cite targets they know they can achieve. This contrasts with the EU’s pledge, which is seen by many to be “too ambitious”, especially when given an expected 54% rise in the EU’s economic growth from 2000 to 2030.

However, China, nowadays, seems to be far more positive in its battle to combat CO2 emissions, than it was at the last major climate talks in Copenhagen in 2009. Its clean energy achievements by 2014, are as follows: 300 gigawatts (GW) of hydropower (2.5 times more than in 2005); 96.37 GW of wind power (90 times larger than in 2005); and 28GW of solar power; and a renewables investment leap by 31%. China’s ‘green growth’ sets an example for other emerging industrial powers to follow, such as India, which may well have previously viewed green industrialisation as a luxury suitable only for rich countries.

Targets for 2020, not included in the UN submission, indicate that China is aiming for 350 GW of hydro, 200 GW of wind power, and 100 GW of solar power, plus 58 GW of nuclear. Hence, China is rightfully earning for itself, the title of ‘an emerging renewables superpower’. At the end of June, the EU and China agreed to jointly target a lower carbon future and work closely on carbon markets and green technology, including carbon capture, use, and storage.

Australia, who recently signed a free trade agreement with China, may well be more compliant at Paris than expected, as it will want to be seen as being closely allied to China’s energy initiatives. Indeed, Australia has just pledged a 26-28% GHG emissions reduction from the 2005 level, up till 2030. However, the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott declared that, “the government will not put the environment ahead of the economy”, and this attitude is a crucial factor behind the motives of many countries, India included.

So, what can we expect from India, one of the world’s leading polluters? It still has not announced its pledge ahead of COP-21, and unlike China, will not set a date for peaking its carbon emissions. Tantalisingly, the Environment Minister, Prakash Javadekar, has promised a pledge that would be “much more ambitious” than the world expected. Plans to help the 400 million ‘energy poor’ in India gain access to electricity, and the fulfilment of Delhi’s possibly ambitious pledge will be “vital to getting a binding deal in Paris”, according to Christiana Figueres, the UN Climate Chief.

To put matters into perspective, Javadekar outlined a 2030 scenario whereby India would likely be responsible for 10-12% of CO2 global emissions, with per capita emissions around 3.5 tonnes. The U.S. per capita figure is 16.6 tonnes today, whilst the EU figure is 7.5 tonnes. It is easy, therefore, to see why countries such as India are somewhat skeptical towards the developed countries.

This may well be indicative of the attitude from other developing countries, such as Gabon and Mexico, who have submitted pledges already, but opted for ‘the business-as-usual scenario’ as their baseline, given that the UN convention puts more responsibility on countries with developed economies. The poorer nations have argued that they want assurances they will be helped to prepare and cope with future climate-related impacts.

Mexico and China have made it clear, in the meantime, that they want to develop their industries further, and so their emissions will rise for some years to come. Mexico has promised though, that the peak year for its’ emissions will be 2026, which betters China’s pledge of 2030. However, some experts feel that China may agree to 2026 at Paris. This is still frustrating, though, for those who really want to make major inroads into curbing emissions.


The EU will obviously set out to take a leading role at Paris, with its stated target of an “at least 40%” reduction on 1990 levels. The EU’s Climate Commissioner, Miguel Arias Canete, recently called upon the major emerging economies to follow suit, and all the EU countries, plus Norway, have agreed to his call.

China, the U.S., and the EU are the three biggest emitters of CO2 in the world, and when one sees that the U.S. emits more than twice the amount of CO2 as the EU does, then the U.S.’s Paris Summit Pledge is hardly “doing the heavy-lifting” that the Foreign Minister of the Marshall Islands recently called for from the U.S. In real terms, whilst China’s targets can be seen as “achievable”, the EU’s as “ambitious, but probably achievable”, the U.S.’s should be viewed as “disappointing, to say the least, though conversely ground-breaking on home soil, given its appalling track record”. Developing countries will hardly be inspired by their figures, though some credit must go to President Obama for kick-starting the climate process in the U.S.

An over-riding message at the Paris Summit may well, therefore, be: “Give us the money, and we can do more, and faster”. Indeed, in 2010, developed countries agreed to raise 100 billion US dollars a year by 2020, to help the developing nations build cleaner energy systems and prepare for the worst effects of climate change.

A notable factor to take into account is the role to be played by Non-State actors. The Covenant of Mayors – leading heads of cities around the globe – will be present at Paris, and they are eager to outstrip the CO2 reduction targets set by their respective countries. Copenhagen, for instance, has per capita emissions of 2.8m tonnes a year, compared with the EU average of 7.4m. tonnes, whilst Vaxjo, in Sweden, even beats Copenhagen with per capita emissions of 2.4m tonnes. So, with 6,000 signatories to the Covenant, many city authorities are eager to take responsibility for the fight against climate change.

Another group, likely to be present at the Paris Summit, are the CEOs of major oil companies. This includes the heads of BP, Shell, Statoil, and Total, who wrote to the UN’s Climate Chief. So, if the richer countries need funding to assist the poorer nations, the private sector may well be willing to play its part in this.

Paris, therefore, looks likely to deliver an agreement, given all these encouraging signs, but the bigger question concerns the level of ambition. A truly global campaign will probably be launched, but will its targets be high enough? Will they be legally binding, too? One suspects that the answers to these two questions will be ‘no’. Maybe for now, we should be happy that the world is beginning to row the good ship ‘Climate’ in the same direction.

Peter Whiley, Specialist, Grupa LOTOS S.A.