Why recent climate pledges show we’re in a new paradigm of climate action

More than 150 countries, in blue, have submitted their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). The pledges account for approximately 90% of greenhouse gas emissions. Source: WRI CAIT Climate Data Explorer as of Nov. 3, 2015.

With urgent action needed to limit the carbon pollution that is already affecting the lives of millions around the world, the global community has been watching closely the post-2020 emissions targets (known as “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” or INDCs) that countries are announcing over the course of this year.

The informal deadline for submission of these INDCs was October 1, and as of now, more than 150 countries have stepped forward to publish their INDCs and allow public review. These include the world’s biggest carbon polluters by absolute quantity: China, the United States, the EU, and India.

All told, we now know the post-2020 emissions pledges of countries accounting for approximately 90% of the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

These INDCs will form an important part of a new, global climate agreement that 195 countries aim to complete in Paris this December. INDCs provide an opportunity to take a sneak peek not only into our post-2020 emissions future, but also at the tools and policies countries believe can help drive the deep reductions in carbon pollution needed to avert the worst effects of climate change.

The INDCs thus far show us the scope and contours of national climate action post-2020.

The most striking characteristic is that more and more countries are taking steps to limit and reduce their carbon pollution.Together with all developed countries, more than 100 developing countries have already submitted their plans to cut carbon pollution. This represents a significant turning point from past efforts to reduce greenhouse gases, that assigned specific emissions levels only to industrialized countries. They are taking action not only to address the global challenge of climate change, but also because they realize the local benefits of building resilient, low-carbon economies of the future.

[pullquote]The most striking characteristic of the INDCs is that more and more countries are taking steps to limit and reduce their carbon pollution.


Leadership from a diversity of countries confirms that we are in a new era, in which all nations have a role to play in the collective fight against climate change.[/pullquote]

There is a shared and growing understanding around the world that there is no high-carbon path to prosperity, for individual nations or for the global community.

The new paradigm for global climate cooperation asks every country to create its own plan. The vast majority of countries – including all the major developed and emerging economies with the most significant emissions – have now done so.

Mexico became the first emerging economy to announce its INDC, on March 30, pledging to peak its greenhouse gas emissions by 2026 and reduce them 22% below a predetermined “business as usual” level by 2030. Mexico’s announcement was followed shortly by Gabon’s, whose contribution to global emissions is minor but whose role as the first African nation to make a pledge is notable.

Since then, developing countries across the spectrum have submitted their pledges, from the small but vulnerable Marshall Islands to giants such as India and China. China has promised to peak its emissions no later than 2030, and building on its INDC, it recently announced that it will launch a national carbon-cutting emissions trading system in 2017. ​​Brazil has notably pledged an absolute economy-wide 37 percent reduction in greenhouse gases below 2005 levels by 2025.

Leadership from such a diversity of countries confirms that we are in a new era, in which all nations have a role to play in the collective fight against climate change.

With the increased transparency that comes from early public review of national targets, we know that what has thus far been pledged by all countries will not be enough to meet globally agreed goals to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, and that more will be needed.

How can the Paris conference harness international cooperation to drive further reductions in carbon pollution, now and in the future? That is a key question confronting nations as they prepare for Paris, and the focus of the next blog in this series.

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