Contributed by Robert Lyman © 2021

On February 26 2021, the United Nations published a report synthesizing the information submitted by the Parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) on their plans to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030. These plans were updated versions of the Independent Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) that the Parties submitted in 2015 before COP21* (the Paris Accord). While all the Parties were requested to submit updated INDCs by February 2021, only 48 INDCs, representing 75 of the 194 Parties to the Convention, were submitted. The UN report indicated that, on the basis of the plans that have been announced to date, the Parties to the Convention will come nowhere close to meeting the goals that they set for themselves in Paris. The report received almost no media coverage.

*COP refers to ‘Conference of the Parties” – signatory to the 1992 UNFCCC Agreement

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The background to this is that, at the 2015 Paris conferences, the Parties agreed to pursue an aspirational goal of controlling the growth in global GHG emissions so as to limit the rise in average global temperatures to no more than two degrees Celsius, and ideally no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels by 2100. The Paris Accord set no individual targets, but obliged the Parties to submit five-year plans (i.e. the INDCs) indicating which targets they set for themselves and which measures they planned to take. A special report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2018 (SR1.5) concluded that meeting the 1.5 degree C. goal required global carbon dioxide equivalent emissions to decline by about 45% of the 2010 level by 2030, and to “net zero” by 2050. In the INDC updates due in 2020, it was therefore expected that Parties would address this. The Covid-19 pandemic forced the postponement of COP26 in Glasgow until the fall of 2021, giving the Parties additional time to update their plans and to submit them to the UN secretariat.

RELATED: Report assessing climate progress to August 2019: “Promises vs Performance: The World’s Largest Emitters Since COP21”

The 75 Parties that submitted updated plans constituted 29% of global emissions in 2017. In their updated plans, they indicated that by 2025, their combined emissions will be around 14.04 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent and by 2030 about 13.67 billion tonnes. That is about 0.3% lower than their previously submitted plans for 2025 and 2.8% lower than the previously submitted plan for 2030. In other words, their emissions by 2030 would be about 0.5% below 2010 levels, a long way from the SR1.5 goal.

Further, the updated plans included only two of the 20 largest emitters, the United Kingdom and the European Union. Notably missing are plans from China, India, the United States, Canada, Iran, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines, members of a group that constitutes 70% of global emissions. It remains to be seen how much these countries will commit to reduce emissions. To date, China and India, the two fastest growing sources of emissions, have committed only to reduce their emissions intensity (i.e. emissions per unit of GDP), not their actual emissions.

Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, was appalled by the results. Echoing the catastrophic language used by climate activists in North America and Europe, she said, “It’s incredible that just when nations are facing an emergency that could eventually end human life on this planet, despite every study, every report and the clear warnings from scientists throughout the world, many nations are sticking to their business -as -usual approach.” The wailing of UN bureaucrats will almost certainly grow louder when the largest emitters submit their updated plans.

Unless something completely unexpected and unprecedented happens, COP26 will have to face the reality that the world’s countries are not prepared to endure the economic harm that would be involved in transitioning their energy systems to more costly and unreliable sources. A storm in brewing in Glasgow.

As noted by economist and climate commentator, Ted Nordhaus, in an article in Foreign Affairs journal entitled “The 2 Degree Delusion“, the danger of such an unrealistic climate target lies in the fact that any sincere efforts to reduce emissions will always look paltry when compared to the goal. Nordhaus specifically stated in that article that ‘decarbonization is hard’ because there are no immediate technological or energy solutions to replace the use of fossil fuels. Nordhaus also pointed out that the 2-degree Celsius target is not sacred science, stating that it was arbitrarily set by his uncle William Nordhaus some 40 years ago, when we knew very little about human influence on climate change or the challenges of changing our energy systems.

Several economists and mainstream climate scientists have called for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to denounce the claim that the world has only a short time left sharply to reduce emissions, as the SR1.5 report did not, in fact, say that. In other words, the prediction of a coming “catastrophe” was invented by headline seeking media and climate activists.

About the Author

Robert Lyman is an economist with 27 years’ experience as an analyst, policy advisor and manager in the Canadian federal government, primarily in the areas of energy, transportation, and environmental policy. He was also a diplomat for 10 years. Subsequently he has worked as a private consultant conducting policy research and analysis on energy and transportation issues as a principal for Entrans Policy Research Group. He is a frequent contributor of articles and reports for Friends of Science, a Calgary-based independent organization concerned about climate change-related issues. He resides in Ottawa, Canada. Full bio.


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