Developed Countries are Reaffirming their Commitments to Reduce their Global Warming Pollution

The international global warming agreements reached in Cancun, Mexico last December made progress on several elements critical to international efforts to address global warming.  One of those key elements was commitments by countries to take action to reduce their emissions.  In response to these commitments, the United Nations recently released information which formally documents the commitments by developed and developing countries.  As countries meet in Bangkok, Thailand for first preparatory meeting of 2011 those commitments will begin to be under the microscope.  During public workshops developed and developing countries will start to outline more details on what underlies their commitments.  Developed countries have just gone through this process* and we learned (see my post tomorrow for the details on the developing country session):

  • a little bit about the policies they are implementing (some countries had details while others didn’t provide much information);
  • that countries need additional policies or new regulations to ensure that the objectives of their policy goals are met;
  • of the need for even greater effort; and
  • that there are a number of issues which require greater clarification so hopefully future sessions will provide more detail on these issues.

What are countries doing right now to reduce emissions, what are their plans for meeting their targets in 2020, and what international policy decisions shape what type of target they implement?  Here is what I learned for some key countries (the target they committed to is noted in parentheses).

Australia (5-25% below 2000 levels) reaffirmed that they will cut their emissions to 5% below 2000 levels unconditionally and will increase that target to 15-25% below 2000 levels in the context of an “ambitious global deal” (see fact sheet).  These cuts assume the continuation of existing Kyoto Protocol rules, so these include some sources of land-use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF) and access to international offsets.  (Note that there are some LULUCF emissions which aren’t required to be reported under the Kyoto Protocol so it is raises questions of why they aren’t including these new sources in the future).  They have already implemented in legislation a national renewable energy target which requires that 20% of electricity come from renewable energy by 2020.  They have invested AUD 500 million in carbon capture and storage and AUD 500 million in industrial scale solar.  They have also adopted regulations to phase-out inefficient light bulbs, require appliances to meet defined efficiency levels, and establish energy codes and standards for buildings.  Prime Minister Gillard recently outlined plans to adopt a carbon price and there is a serious discussion in Australia around plans to adopt such a system in legislation.

Canada (17% below 2005 levels)…didn’t present presumably because they currently don’t have a government.  So stay tuned to see if the new government will cut back on the massive tar sands expansion which is leading to growing carbon pollution.  And maybe the new government will take even great steps at home to curb their pollution. 

European Union (20-30% below 1990 levels) outlined that it “will certainly” meet their Kyoto Protocol Target – they are currently 16% below 1990 levels.  Between 1990 and 2010 manufacturing grew at more than 30%, so this cut in emissions isn’t the result of de-industrialization as some claim would result if you reduce emissions.  One of the key mechanisms the EU has implemented has been to place a cap on major EU emissions sources (~50% of the EU’s emissions are covered) through the EU emissions trading system (EU ETS).  The EU ETS will continue beyond 2012 and regulations that have already been adopted set out targets that will cut the emissions in the covered sectors to 21% below 2005 levels in 2020.  They already have legislation in place to cut the EU’s economy-wide emissions to 20% below 1990 levels in 2020, if fully implemented.  They will increase their ambition to 30% below 1990 levels if there is a “strong” international agreement.  In response to one question they highlighted that if all of their current legislation was implemented as hoped (not guaranteed) they would have emissions 25% below 1990 levels in 2020.

Japan (25% below 1990 levels) highlighted that following the earthquake and tsunami it is still too early to tell what impact this will have on their energy supply and demand, as well as on their overall economic development.  They reaffirmed a commitment to address global warming to the maximum extent possible.

New Zealand (10-20% below 1990 levels) discussed how it is well on the way to meeting its target under the Kyoto Protocol (cutting emissions to 1990 levels) and they stressed that they will meet this target.  They have a domestic cap-and-trade program, which is in operation and will include all sectors of the economy and all greenhouse gases by 2015.  The presenter stressed that “this system is already having an impact on business behavior and decisions” – new electricity generation investments have gone from being about 40% from renewable energy to 80%.  They stressed that their target was in the context of a “comprehensive” international agreement.  Unfortunately they didn’t discuss what their target would be if there wasn’t such an international agreement (presumably their existing policies would be retained and would lead to some emissions cut). 

Norway (30-40% below 1990 levels) outlined their target in 2020 is based on a broad parliamentary agreement adopted in 2008.  In cutting their emissions to 30% below 1990 levels, they will reduce their domestic emissions by 15-17 million tons compared to BAU in 2020– the rest of the target will be achieved through the purchase of international offsets.  Of this domestic action an estimated 3 million tons will be achieved from LULUCF under the current rules, but they will revise their commitment depending on how the rules are changed in the future.  In the context of a “strong” global agreement they will cut their emissions to 40% below 1990 levels and will go carbon neutral in 2030.

Russia (15-25% below 1990 levels in 2020) outlined that it’s emissions would be 14-28% below 1990 levels in 2020 depending on how successful their programs were implemented (e.g., would their energy efficiency goals be met).  In either case, these levels would be significantly above today’s levels as noted in a graph shown by the Russian delegate.  We learned a little about the policies they are actually implementing although they did present some brief description of some policies.  I would like to hear more on the steps they are taking at home. 

US (17% below 2005 levels) stated that in the context of Cancun Agreement it reaffirmed its goal to cut emissions in the range of 17% below 2005 levels in conformity with enacted legislation.  They stressed: “we stand behind this target; the US is committed to an economy-wide target.”  US emissions have declined since 2005 – 8.7% below 2005 levels in 2009.  They stressed that the US has implemented or is developing a series of policies and measures that will reduce emissions.  They outlined how the US has invested $92 billion in “clean energy” (including $29 billion in energy efficiency and $21 billion in renewable energy) since the Obama Administration came into office.  The presentation stressed that for LULUCF they will undertake a “comprehensive, land-based approach that takes advantage of the broadest array of mitigation actions” that includes all sources and sinks, depending on data availability.

About the Authors

Jake Schmidt

Director, International program

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