UN climate change expert: National contributions not enough

Christiana Figueres [United Nations]

National plans for reducing CO2 emissions are not yet ambitious enough to meet climate goals, but progress has been made. EURACTIV Germany reports.

After the latest round of negotiations, a draft framework is in place for the UN summit in Paris.

However, the combined effort is not yet sufficient to prevent a temperature increase of two degrees, warned Jochen Flasbarth from Germany’s environment ministry, and the Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Christiana Figueres, at the presentation of the INDC reports.

In one month (30 November), the 21st UN climate change conference begins in Paris. The summit’s objective is to limit global warming to a maximum of two degrees by 2050, with greenhouse gas emissions expected to be reduced. As yet, the international community is not on track to achieve this target, despite the good progress highlighted by Flasbarth and Figueres on Friday (30 October).

>>Infographic: Financing climate change and development

Figueres announced that so far 146 countries have filed their Intended National Determined Contributions (INDCs), including 75% of all developing countries. She praised the fact that around half the countries would not only reduce their emissions by 2030, but also decarbonise their economies even more.

If the targets that have been submitted are fully implemented by 2040, then emissions should go down by 9%, with population growth factored in, according to the newest UN-estimates. By 2025, around four gigatonnes less emissions would be emitted.

Transition to low-CO2 economy a priority

Figueres underlined the importance of the national goals: “The INDCs have the capability of limiting the forecast temperature rise to around 2.7 degrees Celsius by 2100.” It is estimated that the temperature would rise by five degrees without them. “But it is not enough,” she said.

According to scientists, the two degrees figure is the maximum limit below which the effects of global warming, such as floods and droughts, can be controlled.

“We’re not yet where we need to be,” said Flasbarth. Even the projected 2.7 degrees estimate is not guaranteed.

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Whether the ambitious set of goals can be achieved hinges on the Paris negotiations. Governments need to decide how to implement their targets and how to make them legally binding. It is also of the utmost importance that a course is plotted for further improvements and progress.

In Bonn, the last round of negotiations before the conference, a draft was produced that focuses on two highly-political issues. The first is the means by which global warming can actually be combatted, while the other is how to help countries adapt to climate change, especially less developed countries. However, the draft stopped short of addressing the most important points. These will be top of the agenda in Paris.

“The INDCs will be a part of the climate agreement,” Flasbarth noted. It is still yet to be seen whether they will be a part of internationally-binding law. Flasbarth did add, though, that “every country has the willingness to contribute. That is why I believe in political obligation”.

Decreasing cost of renewables

Figueres was optimistic about the future. Since the last negotiations in Copenhagen, certain factors have changed for the better, for example, the cost of solar and wind power has dropped. Additionally, capital markets now see a higher risk in fossil fuels, with $2.6 trillion in capital market financing having shifted from fossil fuels to renewables.

>>Read: ‘Time is short’ to stop climate change

Figueres sees the biggest challenge in the developing countries, adding that the industrial nations have a historical responsibility to contribute. The UN analyst called upon developed countries to reduce their own emissions, before helping developing states achieve their targets through “investment in the public sector and financing the carbon market”. 

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is an international environmental treaty negotiated at the United Nations Conference held in Rio de Janeiro from 3 to 14 June 1992.

The treaty itself set no binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions for individual countries and contains no enforcement mechanisms. In that sense, the treaty is considered legally non-binding. Instead, the treaty provides a framework for negotiating specific international treaties.

  • 30 November - 11 December 2015 COP21 Climate Conference, Paris


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