DIALOGUE: Is the Paris climate deal in peril after major nations miss UN deadline?

Published 15:01 on April 2, 2015  /  Last updated at 16:55 on June 1, 2021  / Ben Garside /  Climate Talks, Contributed Content, International, Other Content

Some of the world’s major developed nations missed a Mar. 31 UN deadline to submit their INDCs. Carbon Pulse asked leading international experts what this says about the Paris process and what impact the initial offers are likely to have on other big emitters.

Carbon Pulse Dialogues are discussions about climate policy by a selection of the world’s leading experts.

Some of the world’s major developed nations missed a March 31 UN deadline to submit their draft contributions towards a global climate deal due to be finalised in Paris at the end of this year.

Nearly 200 nations at the UN agreed the date for countries ready to do so. But Australia, Canada and Japan all failed to hand in their “intended nationally determined contributions” (INDCs) while the US, the 28 EU member states, Norway, Russia, Switzerland and Mexico submitted on time.

Number one emitter China has already outlined its plans and is due to make a formal submission by June. Gabon has since become the first African nation to submit, before dozens of INDCs expected ahead of the December conference.

Carbon Pulse asked leading international experts what the limited deadline response says about the Paris process and what impact the initial offers are likely to have on other big emitters.

Erwin Jackson, deputy CEO of The Climate Institute think tank in Australia, @ErwinJackson1

Erwin Jackson, deputy CEO of The Climate Institute think tank in Australia. @ErwinJackson1

Monica Araya, executive director of Nivela, a think tank that focuses on development, climate and politics. @MonicaArayaTica

Monica Araya, executive director of Nivela, a think tank that focuses on development, climate & politics. @MonicaArayaTica

Doug Boucher, director of climate research and analysis for the Union of Concerned Scientists, USA. @UCSUSA

Doug Boucher, director of climate research & analysis for Union of Concerned Scientists, USA. @UCSUSA

Susanne Droege, head of global issues division, German Institute for International and Security Affairs, @SWPBerlin

Susanne Droege, head of global issues division, German Institute for International and Security Affairs. @SWPBerlin

Dirk Forrister, President and CEO of the International Emissions Trading Association. @ieta

Dirk Forrister, President and CEO of the International Emissions Trading Association. @ieta








Erwin Jackson, deputy CEO of The Climate Institute think tank in Australia, @ErwinJackson1Erwin Jackson – Apr. 2, 1330 GMT: Countries that account for over a quarter of global emissions met the first deadline for communicating their post-2020 targets to the UN. We expect more soon, but more wealthy countries like Australia, Japan, and Canada should have been ready to advance their initial offers by March 31.

Having said this, we can’t just judge the pre-Paris process on when the targets are advanced. What matters more is whether the information shared with the international community meets the letter and spirit of the agreements made in Lima last year.

On that front there are some good signs (with some exceptions). Based on the information provided by the first round of countries to advance a target, there is greater transparency in the targets as they are justified against the global goal of limiting warming to less than 2°C. This is stark contrast to the targets announced before Copenhagen. The lack of transparency to those targets – which were mostly only justified against countries’ domestic circumstances – underminded trust and transparency.

The countries that are now advancing targets towards Paris are setting the standard for other to follow.

For example, the United States is targeting a 26-28% cut in emissions below 2005 levels by 2025, and to “make best efforts” to hit the top of its target range. To achieve even the lower target, it must double its rate of emissions reductions compared to the rate previously required to achieve its 2020 target  of 17% below 2005 levels. This is a genuine progression of ambition — an important criterion for targets as defined by the Lima Call for Climate Action agreed on by countries last year.

This sets an important marker for countries like Australia, Japan and Canada who may be tempted just to define progression as target marginally stronger than their last one.

Australia’s government intends to put forth an initial target by mid-year, but the consultation process it just launched around how to define the post-2020 target included scenarios of 4°C, not 2°C.

Australia is in a tough position. With a weak minimum 2020 target of only 5% reductions on 2000 levels, it starts from a low point, and has a massive gap to close if it’s to match the efforts of heavy hitters like the US and the EU.

For example, translating the US target for 2025 to a base year of 2000 (the base year for Australia’s targets) gives around a 30% reduction in emissions below 2000 levels. This scale of reduction is well beyond Australia’s current minimum target of 5% by 2020, but less than that required to be a fair contribution to the internationally agreed goal of limiting global warming to less than 2°C.

We should be travelling faster to Paris but we are importantly starting to get a better look at our travelling companions.


Monica Araya, executive director of Nivela, a think tank that focuses on development, climate and politics. @MonicaArayaTicaMonica Araya – Apr. 3, 1640 GMT: Although many countries failed to submit their INDC by the initial deadline, I want to highlight the significance of Mexico’s submission. Mexico is the first developing country in submitting an INDC, setting an important benchmark, especially in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Mexico’s INDC sets a precedent in the G77 group, presenting the opportunity of building momentum and climate leadership in other countries. By submitting its mitigation and adaptation targets well before Paris, the country is showing its commitment not only to a global agreement, but also to increasing transparency and accountability inside and outside of Mexico. It held a public consultation on its INDC that is still considered unthinkable in other developing countries.

Mexico’s inclusion of adaptation and the input from civil society are noteworthy and should be an example for other countries in the region. Chile has certainly centered public participation in its INDC process and is expected to submit it in the near future. Climate change is increasingly a priority for citizens as the link between climate and development becomes clearer through public demands for better transportation, clean air and livable cities.

Mexico’s submission also raises questions regarding submissions by other big emitters – for instance Brazil. With all its rhetoric on climate action and the status that BRICs membership entails, Brazil has yet to make public any significant progress on its INDCs.

In short, submissions thus far legitimize current efforts towards a 2C limit, but must be carefully tracked to ensure that concrete actions and plans follow these commitments. As for other major emitters, current submissions continue to put international pressure on all countries to contribute meaningfully to a global agreement by the end of 2015.


Doug Boucher - Hood magazine photo in greenhouseDoug Boucher – Apr. 3, 1832 GMT: Sure, it would have been nice to see more INDCs by March 31. But since the UNFCCC decision at Lima asked countries “to communicate their intended nationally determined contributions well in advance of the twenty-first session of the Conference of the Parties (by the first quarter of 2015 by those Parties ready to do so),” we already knew that the end of March was not a firm deadline. Countries gave themselves some slack, and now they’re taking advantage of it.

What’s more important than timing is what they’ve actually submitted. In this respect, I’ve been focusing on their intended actions in the land use sector (basically, agriculture and forests), which represents 25% of global emissions.

In this respect, the INDCS so far are both disappointing and paradoxical. While the two developing countries – Mexico and Gabon – give considerable detail on what they propose to do in the land sector, the developed countries tell us practically nothing about actions. They tell us how they’ll account for land use emissions and removals, but very little or nothing about what they’ll do.

The explanations for this lack are pretty weak. For example, the EU says, in its section about agriculture, forestry and other land uses, that “Policy on how to include Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry into the 2030 greenhouse gas mitigation framework will be established as soon as technical conditions allow and in any case before 2020.” Let’s hope that those “technical conditions” will change soon and allow the EU to explain its plans.

On the other hand, this lacuna does mean that if developed countries do decide to take land use action seriously, they could increase their INDC offers considerably before or at Paris. So perhaps there’s a silver lining.

Land use is different from other sectors because it’s the only one that has the potential for large-scale carbon sequestration. Thus, it’s critical to achieving the negative emissions in the later 21st century that the IPCC says we’ll need to avoid dangerous climate change. Mexico and Gabon seem to recognize this. Let’s hope that other countries will too as the INDC process moves forward.


Droege_SusanneSusanne Droege – Apr. 4, 1615 GMT: Early announcement of the INDCs is important for the preparations of a climate deal in Paris. Although the UNFCCC evaluation of the post-2020 climate ambitions was postponed until October, transparency about the future mitigation efforts is needed early on. In particular as the drafted text for the new agreement includes the INDCs and should be ready by end of May. Given this timing of the process, it is not good news that only five parties, including the EU and the US, have met the 31 March line. Only Russia and Gabon followed on 1 April.

The INDCs mark a new era of climate policy at the UN level. There is no clarity on what an INDC has to be. Countries with high climate risks for example might submit an INDC which refers to their plans to meet those risks. Thus INDCs are not the “perfect commitments” derived from the 2°C target, but they are neither the “do as you like“ pledges that were delivered post-Copenhagen for 2020. Embedding INDCs in a new contract will come along with measuring, reporting and verification (MRV). Many governments do not like MRV very much, especially the emerging economies China and India. China does not want to be caught failing. The first absolute climate target ever considered by China, the 2030 peak year, not yet submitted as an INDC, was decided in 2014 under high uncertainties about what the Chinese economy will be like 15 years from now. India is sorting out the national efforts under its climate programme and will need to finalise the national budgetary process before the INDC can be submitted. Obviously, at least these two big emitters (number 1 and 3 globally), do want to announce and deliver.

Looking into substance, however, being early does not always mean being better. The U.S. INDC has not been passed by congress and never will be, and a new president might undo it altogether. From the US domestic perspective it is an ambitious target. The EU decision on its -40% target for 2030 includes an “at least“ in order to readjust the numbers later on. Given the EU’s -80% target by 2050, the INDC is just about the lower bound of the ambition needed. Russia’s submission (-25-30%) is the same as for 2020, allowing for an increase and decline until 2030.

The negotiations during the following months will be intense and would be easier if INDCs would come in faster. In June the G7 will meet in Germany. This will be the time by which Japan and Canada will have to deliver. Along the way it will be crucial to bring together those asking for more adapation and finance (most developing countries) with those offering only low mitigation (oil rich and emerging countries). The US and the EU could work this out together, especially as Barack Obama has established bilateral climate cooperation with key countries, and the EU being the long-standing ally of poor countries. Pushing for INDC submissions will be a key topic on the agenda.


Dirk Forrister, President and CEO of the International Emissions Trading Association. @ietaDirk Forrister – Apr. 8, 1646 GMT: Many observers forecast delays in published INDCs quite a while ago. We took the hint from negotiators, who emphasized throughout 2014 that the March 31st deadline applied to “those who are ready.” Knowing this, it was not surprising that only a few showed up on time.

Other large emitting countries will submit their INDCs in the second quarter – notably, we hear that China’s INDC could appear in the June timeframe. Others, such as Brazil and South Korea have said they hope to submit theirs by October. Once the big ones are all on the table, the real interesting part begins. Comparing, contrasting, negotiating….

This year we will be in somewhat uncharted territory for UNFCCC negotiations. The Kyoto and Copenhagen processes included target-setting by Parties – but they did not include an assessment procedure to measure how well the commitments stacked up against the global need to address emissions growth.

At the last COP in Lima, the Parties directed the UNFCCC Secretariat to prepare an assessment of the net effect of the INDCs. This report is due by November 1st. But they didn’t agree on what happens when they are tallied up and compared to the 2°C temperature objective. Will the initial INDCs stand, or will they be strengthened? How will it all unfold in the run up to Paris? It’s a mystery!

But one thing is likely: before any INDCs are strengthened, Parties will need a clear understanding of two main elements:

• how do the ambitions in INDCs compare amongst peers, and
• how will the market elements of the Agreement enable cooperation in achieving INDCs.

The UNFCCC analysis will review the former, while the market architecture will ripen over the course of the ADP negotiations this year. The ADP needs to produce a clear structure by its October session in order for Parties to know what they can expect on the role and function of market elements.

The two questions of ambition and international cooperation are joined at the hip. This is illustrated particularly well in two of the INDCs tabled so far:

• Switzerland emphasized its plans for a new and reformed CDM to help in achieving its 50% reduction pledge (the toughest target tabled so far).
• Mexico pledged a 25% reduction – which it said it could raise to as much as 40%, depending on the potential effectiveness of bilateral, regional and international market cooperation.

It is disappointing that neither the EU, the US or Russia was quite so forthcoming. But Mexico and Switzerland showed the increased ambition that can be associated with market linkages.

Perhaps this will be the secret to a success in Paris in addressing the 2°C challenge: with markets, Parties can afford to do more. But if the elements on markets are restricted or unclear in the final Paris text, the ambitions will sink to a lower common denominator. That could mean that the gap between what is pledged versus what is needed to get the world on the 2°C will be even wider.

Compiled by Ben Garside and Stian Reklev – news@carbon-pulse.com