Key Findings

Conclusion: Existing pledges by developed countries, when added together, could represent a substantial effort for reducing Annex I emissions by 2020 – a 12 to 19% reduction of emissions below 1990 levels depending on the assumptions made about the details of the pledges. But they still fall far short of the range of emission reductions – 25 to 40% – that the IPCC notes would be necessary for stabilizing concentrations of CO2e at 450 ppm, a level associated with a 26 to 78% risk of overshooting a 2ºC goal (Meinshausen 2005). If the pledges are not ratcheted up even beyond the highest pledges, this analysis shows that the additional reductions required between 2020 and 2050 would be significant, with emissions dropping roughly 2.5% annually to reach a goal of 80% below 1990 levels by mid-century.

Recommendation: Developed countries should implement emission cuts consistent with the higher ranges of their pledges. Second, while the Copenhagen Accord has provided for a periodic science review, if global emission pathways continue to misalign themselves with the science, the review process should mandate more ambitious commitments as the science dictates.

Conclusion: In assessing comparability, the choice of metrics can have profound implications on a given country’s ambition.

Recommendation: There is no single perfect way to assess comparability. Factors such as population growth and the use of offsets (as well as their integrity) will impact the effort and environmental effectiveness of a target. While comparability is best assessed by considering multiple dimensions of a target as we do here, we need to bear in mind that absolute emission reductions are ultimately what matters for reducing our impact on the climate.

Conclusion: In our analysis, we make the assumption that emission reductions achieved via international offsets contained in pledges will be real and additional. These assumptions make an enormous difference for the scale of some country’s emission reductions, such as that of the United States. Therefore, if international emission reductions play a major role in national targets, and they prove not to be real and additional, then some pledges, such as that in the emerging US bill, will fall far short of how they appear at face value.

Recommendation: The implementation of high regulatory standards and the design of robust accounting rules are critical to ensuring that emission reductions are real and additional.

Conclusion: This analysis demonstrated the importance of resolving how LULUCF emissions are to be estimated before final commitments are determined. Emissions from the land use sector can vary significantly from year to year and the choice of including them, as well as the choice of a base year, can make a significant difference in defining the stringency of a given country’s target. For example, when Canada’s pledge is calculated below a 1990 base year and LULUCF is included, the pledge allows for significant emissions growth.

Recommendation: High and uniform standards for estimating and accounting for land use emissions will be essential if targets set by developed countries are to deliver the ambition and impacts that they claim. If LULUCF emissions are excluded in pledges, it will be necessary to examine the net impact of pledges as well as emissions and sinks from LULUCF in order to provide an accurate measurement relevant to the state of the global climate.

Conclusion: In this analysis, we assume consistent emissions measurement and accounting rules. The Copenhagen Accord calls for accounting for targets that is “rigorous, robust and transparent.” If accounting is not also consistent (e.g. if US domestic legislation accounts for emissions from domestic agriculture in a manner that differs from that used by other Parties), comparability exercises will be more difficult and contentious. Furthermore, it will be difficult to assess effort.

Recommendation: Parties should agree to rigorous and consistent estimation and accounting methodologies.

Executive Summary

Significant commitments to reduce developed country greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) will be central to the realization of the Copenhagen Accord.

As negotiated in December 2009, the Copenhagen Accord provides a mandate for Annex I Parties that choose to associate themselves with the Accord to register their emission reduction pledges by 31 January 2010. Many pledges have already been put forward by major industrialized countries and economic blocs. These include the European Union (EU), Japan, Canada, and Australia, and the US.

In this analysis, we assess Annex I pledges under the Copenhagen Accord, as well as pledges by Parties that have yet to associate themselves with the Accord (namely Belarus and Ukraine). We do so with the expectation that these countries will associate themselves with the Accord in the near future.

This Working Paper presents a comparative analysis of these pledges, which was performed with two key aims:

  • To enable negotiators from all countries to compare the emission reduction outcomes that would result from industrialized countries’ pledges; and

  • To facilitate efforts to aggregate emission reduction pledges in order to calculate the global impact on the atmosphere.

The absence of details regarding some countries’ mechanisms to achieve emission reductions present hurdles to measuring comparability. Countries will need to clarify how they plan to fulfill their pledges, especially with regard to the use of international offsets and inclusion of land use, land use change, forestry (LULUCF) emissions and reductions, if aggregate effort and comparability are to be effectively measured.

Nevertheless, this analysis provides a preliminary picture of where the world is post Copenhagen. Our key conclusions and recommendations are listed below. Most importantly, we found that while developed country emission reduction pledges could have an important and potentially substantial impact, they will not be enough to meet even the lower range of emission reductions required for stabilizing concentrations of CO2e at 450 ppm and certainly fall very short of goals to reduce concentrations below that level.