Country "Report Cards" - Evaluating national climate pledges for the COP21 Climate Conference in Paris


The climate negotiations in Paris this December rests on four key pillars: (1) a universal agreement (2) the climate pledges of countries (the "INDCs"), (3) finance and (4) the actions of local authorities, and non-state actors such as civil society groups and companies.

Progress has already been made in all these areas. Negotiators have been working throughout the year to prepare a draft negotiating text for Paris. On INDCs, over 150 countries accounting for over 90 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions have submitted their climate pledges to the UNFCCC. On climate finance, the OECD and CPI have reported that at least 62 billion dollars in climate finance has been mobilized from public and private sources by developed countries for developing countries. Cities, states, provinces and companies of all stripes have signed commitments to climate action and in support of a strong global agreement in Paris.

National Climate Pledges (INDCs) and why they matter

Of the four pillars for the Paris agreement, the national climate pledges represents one of the most ambitious and auspicious signs that the world is taking decisive action on climate change. Rather than waiting until the days before negotiations begin, as happened in Copenhagen, national governments have submitted meaningful climate pledges months ahead of the Paris conference this December. This includes significant pledges from the US to cut domestic emissions, from China to peak its emissions around 2030, and for Brazil to become the first developing country to take on an absolute emissions cut. Already, the country pledges have lowered the trajectory of future emissions to a 2.7 degree Celsius path, bringing the world closer to the 2 degree Celsius goal for limiting the most severe consequences of climate change.

National Climate Pledges - room for improvement by all countries

Given the diversity of national circumstances - each national pledge contains policies tailored to domestic circumstances. Some countries, such as Brazil, have committed to deforestation goals and increasing the share of renewables in their energy mix. Others, such as South Korea, have committed to emissions reductions relative to a "Business-as-usual" scenario where emissions would have grown without strong climate policies. With different economic, social and environmental circumstances in each country, it is important to have a few metrics by which to judge the commitments of various countries relative to one another. Here is the "report card" from NRDC of how countries would be graded on their climate pledges. In this class, there is no room for a grading curve. Many countries still have significant room for improvement -- because the ultimate goal must be to implement climate policies that will keep global temperature rise to less than 2 degrees Celsius.

Measuring climate action

Each of the countries below was judged based on four criteria:

- Makes an effort - Countries are assessed based on whether the emissions reduction pathway they have submitted puts them on a path to significant long term reductions. In this category, no country has received the highest rating, since all of them need to ramp up their emission reductions in pursuit of the 2 degree Celsius target. Climate Action Tracker has done assessments of key countries which outlines a ranking of the climate targets of countries compared to various criteria. We used their criteria as a guide for our assessment of "makes an effort". For example, if they have a "medium" ranking in Climate Action Tracker they received a "needs improvement" ranking in our grade. For example, the US, EU, and China announced strong targets, but there is clear room for improvement so they received a "needs improvement" ranking in this category.

- Shows Responsibility - The pledges from each country are evaluated based on the extent to which the pledges are supported by domestic policies. In essence, do they have real domestic actions that move these countries towards meeting current targets and new targets for Paris? Several countries have existing domestic policies to fulfill the goals set out in their post-2020 targets, while others have policies that directly contradict the pledges submitted. For instance, Canada's pledge to reduce emissions is ranked "very poor" in this category as their current emissions are growing with existing measures and they have no plan to address tar sands production which is their largest source of emissions growth.

- Neat and Accurate Work - The transparency of the climate pledges are judged based on the level of information and detail in the INDC document submitted to the UN. For instance, several countries have not clarified their share of emissions reductions that would come from buying credits on the international market, and others have not clarified their policies on accounting for land use and forestry. In addition, some of these countries have been known to use questionable accounting rules for these activities. Japan, for example, has created their own international offset credits which have been criticized by a number of organizations so this is another factor that led to it receiving a "poor" ranking in this category.

- Plays Well with Others - International cooperation is an important element, as countries are holding each other accountable and creating a virtuous cycle of climate ambition. Countries received marks based on their climate action in bilateral and multilateral meetings. A few examples include the historic US-China agreement from November 2014, and the engagement of countries on climate issues at other venues such as the G7, G20 and Clean Energy Ministerial. Countries that are pushing aggressively for international action received good marks, while ones that are sitting on the sidelines scored poorly.

See individual country report cards here.