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Draft climate text released - but what about the emission gap?

Implementation of the 146 national climate action plans submitted in preparation of the Paris climate summit would result in global warming of 2.7 degrees Celsius - which is still above the target of 2 degrees Celsius.

In only eight weeks' time, representatives from all over the world will be entering the most critical phase of the 2015 United Nations climate change conference in Paris. This Monday (05.10.2015), co-chairs of the ad hoc working group on the Durban platform (ADP) - the body tasked with negotiating the agreement - submitted a first draft for the treaty text, which contains the basis for negotiation of the Paris climate package.

The Paris summit, also known as COP21, is set to adopt a framework on how to manage climate change. All member countries of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) were asked to submit their emission reduction targets (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, INDCs) for 2025 and 2030. An informal deadline passed October 1. Until now, the UNFCCC has received responses from 146 countries, or three-quarters of all member countries.

The UNFCCC's spokesperson, Nick Nuttall, thinks this is good news: "It is a really good number of countries with wide geographical spread," he told DW. "We have the major emitters, all the industry countries and big developing countries. While more will come in, it won't make a significant difference."

Scientists agree that to prevent the most dangerous impacts of climate change, global warming should be kept below 2 degrees Celsius. But the INDCs submitted have not eliminated the so-called emissions gap - or the amount of greenhouse gas emissions still needed to prevent this dangerous temperature rise.

Need to increase ambition

However, there are still a few fairly large emitters that have not yet submitted an INDC - such as Iran, Saudia Arabia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Venezuela, Egypt and Nigeria, said Louise Jeffery. She's a researcher at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, involved in Climate Action Tracker.

Climate Action Tracker, or CAT, is an independent scientific analysis produced by four research organizations to track climate action and global efforts toward the globally agreed aim of holding warming below 2 degrees Celsius.

According to CAT, the combination of the 146 Government climate action plans, if implemented, would cause aggregated global warming of 2.7 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels.

"Given that so many of the emissions are covert, and so many INDCs are in, it is clear that the aggregate effect is not sufficient to meet the 2 degrees Celsius target," Jeffery told DW.

"All governments need to review their own contribution," Jeffery added. "If countries could submit revised INDCs before Paris, increasing ambition and reducing emissions, that would help build a stronger agreement in Paris."

The CAT rated most countries as having only a medium or inadequate INDC target. India, for example, was among the countries to most recently submit its INDC - but is one of the most important countries regarding future emissions. The country states that it wants to reduce the emission intensity of its GDP by 33 to 35 percent by the year 2030.

However, Jeffery pointed out: "The whole INDC is unfortunately not quite as strong as we have been expecting or hoping for." According to a "fair share" principle, most countries could do substantially more toward meeting the target, she added.

As a second step, the framework would need to ensure that the INDCs are backed up by additional action in the long term. This could happen for example through a proposed "ratchet-up" mechanism, which would require countries to review their policies on a five-year cycle, potentially strengthening them - and closing the emissions gap.

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'Foundation, not ceiling'

This initial iteration of the INDCs is only a first step, agreed UNFCCC spokesperson Nuttall: "In terms of ambition, this is a foundation and not a ceiling - it is the foundation upon which action is going to be built."

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Such a review mechanism - still under negotiation - would allow for adjustment of common efforts in order to close the emission gap, and eventually meet the 2-degree target. In addition to that, the Paris conference would need to clarify the request by developing countries for sufficient finance to tackle climate change, Nuttall added.

Critics of the process have said that without a binding mechanism, implementation of the goals depends on the goodwill and ethical integrity of following national administrations.

But Nuttall is positive that once a Paris declaration has been adopted, countries will also implement what they have promised: "They see it in their national self-interest to move to a low-carbon, resource-efficient future."

When CAT assessed the pledges made by countries for the last round of climate talks, during the Lima talks in December 2014, they estimated an average global warming of more than 3 degrees Celsius. When viewed in that light, the current INDC submission process reflects a substantial improvement.

"I think that there definitely is active engagement, and most governments are working very strongly to improve it," Jeffery affirmed. "We just know that we can't stop yet. There is still more work to be done."

The 20-page draft text released Monday still includes numerous details and deadlines to be negotiated. The next climate meeting will take place in Bonn, Germany, October 19 through 23.

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