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The Global Fight Against Climate Change; NDCs and Net Zero Targets Worldwide

GLOBAL CLIMATE ACTION |


Nationally Determined Contributions

As part of the ongoing global battle against climate change, almost 200 countries have set greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) reductions targets, or nationally determined contributions (NDCs). They’re fairly self-explanatory; by a specified year, a nation aims to reduce its carbon emissions by a certain amount (compared to a previous, specific year). 

Every 5 years, member nations of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC) are required to submit revised NDCs, which are encouraged to progressively be greater GHG reduction targets, reflecting higher levels of ambition. Some national commitments are made more frequently, and more quickly than others. The latest round of NDCs came before COP26 in Glasgow Oct 31-Nov 12, many made well before in the case of more ambitious nations. Most members of the UNFCCC managed to make their improved NDCs public before COP 26. 

For example, the EU group of nations have committed to a collective target of 55% carbon emissions reduction by 2030 (compared to 1990 levels) – known as ‘Fit for 55‘. Countries worldwide have upped their original carbon reduction pledges made in the run-up to the Paris Climate Accord to new pledges reflecting greater climate ambition (described below). Many countries have taken the even more ambitious step of also setting a net zero emissions (carbon neutrality) national target (usually of 2050, but some nations have set different net zero target dates, described below).

Climate Change, Climate StrikeGreater climate ambition worldwide reflects the growing international urgency to address the global climate crisis, and to reduce countries’ and communities’ carbon footprints. Recently, the global climate fight has received international notoriety fueled by young people worldwide engaging in a variety of climate strikes and climate actions. Read more about youth movements for global action on climate here>>> unicef.org/environment-and-climate-change/youth-action

As climate science has evolved over the last few years, GHG reduction targets have become more ambitious. For example, the EU now promises to cut carbon emissions to 55% of 1990 levels by 2030 ( up from 40%) on its way to net zero by 2050. President Biden has pledged that the US will have carbon neutral energy on its electric grids by 2035, on its path to net zero by 2050 (up from 28% under Obama at the Paris Climate Accord). The “net zero” facet of national climate ambitions is a fairly new concept, kicked off by the relatively tiny nation of Bhutan in 2015.


Paris Climate Accord and Net Zero Targets

At the Paris Climate Accord, almost 200 world nations pledged GHG emission reduction targets. Based on the latest scientific guidance from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), many nations’ NDCs have evolved over the last few years. NDCs have become more ambitious, and now many nations have net zero targets as well. Nations such as the EU group of countries, the UK, other European nations, & Japan, have set targets to reach net zero carbon emissions (carbon neutrality) by 2050. A few European nations have even more ambitious net zero targets. Germany and Sweden, for example, have both set their net zero targets for 2045. Finland aims for net zero by 2035>

The Paris Climate Accord is not legally binding, so actual binding NDCs must originate from national, state, and regional governments. (When not put forward by a national government, but rather by state or regional governments; these commitments are simply referred to as GHG reduction pledges). In the case of the EU, NDC targets and the 2050 net zero target are codified into law by legislation that is passed by the European Commission – the European Climate Law (effective July 2021).

The United States federal government has the executive commitment of President Biden to bold climate pledges (as of 2021) – net zero by 2050, carbon neutral energy on US grids by 2035, and at least a 50% reduction in GHGs by 2030 (compared to 2005 levels). The United States Congress hasn’t yet passed legislation committing to NDCs or a net zero target (like the EU has as well as several European nations independently). American states (such as California and several others) have passed GHG reduction targets and net zero targets for their individual states; through State Congresses as binding legislation. 

Many European nations (& California) had legally binding net zero targets, as well as ambitious GHG reduction pledges, in place well before China or the US. (Historically, China & the US are the 2 biggest emitters of GHGs in the world). China has set their net zero target for 2060 (in September 2020); while the United States has committed to net zero by 2050 (with President Biden taking office, in January 2021). It is expected that NDC and net zero commitments that the Chinese national government makes, will be codified into legally binding law in China. The US Congress would need to pass legislation, much as the European Commission has, in order for its NDC and net zero targets to become legally binding.

Net zero pledges made by governments around the world represent ambitious goals to keep global warming below 2°C (that’s 2°C rise above pre-industrial temperature averages), and ideally to 1.5°C this century; making good on the latest IPCC climate targets. Here is a map with countries’ various degrees of progress to net zero:

Map of Net-zero progress from BloombergNEF

[Compare developed nations of the EU and Japan (best – top quartile, in green), and US as well as a few other nations in blue (2nd quartile), to 3rd & 4th quartile nations on the above map. Many governments (a few G-20 nations, and nations not in the G-20) have yet to even make net zero pledges for their nations. Most of these are developing nations that believe that using fossil fuel energy is necessary to help alleviate poor socioeconomic conditions.

Historically, fossil fuels have brought developed nations a higher standard of living, however, renewables will effectively raise the standard of living for developing nations with cleaner, cheaper, abundant energy. Climate change will disproportionately affect developing nations, which have done the least to cause the problem. The solution is for all world nations, developed and developing, to simultaneously make the clean energy transition, and enjoy the benefits of clean energy development.]



NDCs and Net Zero targets

CAT Consortium’s ‘Climate Action Tracker’ – ‘Governments still showing little sign of acting on climate crisis’

Almost 200 countries have pledged NDCs to the United Nations Framework on Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC), but are any of them doing enough? Analysis by the CAT Consortium’s ‘Climate Action Tracker‘ suggests that of the world’s great powers, only European nations (and California, as well as several other states) are truly leading the way in achieving GHG reduction targets. Nations in Northern Europe especially stand out as climate action leaders with regard to successfully reaching ambitious GHG reduction targets.

EU and US

The European Union (initially at Paris) pledged at least a 40% cut in GHGs below 1990 levels by 2030, and since then, in April 2021, has committed to 55% carbon reduction by 2030 (compared to 1990 levels). This is not merely an aim either; it’s legally binding. The EU Climate Law set the net zero by 2050 target into law in June 2021.

First of all, let’s take a look at the promises made by various major developed nations and states. In March 2015, President Obama initially pledged ahead of the Paris Climate Accord that the United States aims to cut its emissions by 26-28% by 2025 (in comparison to 2005 levels). President Biden has since set an even more ambitious NDC of at least 50% GHG reduction by 2030 (compared to 2005 levels). Biden has also pledged 100% carbon free energy on electric grids in the United States by 2035; and net zero GHG emissions for the US by 2050.

The US Congress would need to act on NDCs, net zero targets, and other ambitious climate actions, in order to pass legislation, and make these commitments binding. The EU, as well as states in the US (like California), have passed laws for their ambitious climate targets. Although the US as a whole is behind Europe, California is still a global leader as far as GHG reduction targets (as states are responsible for their own GHG reduction goals). California plans to reach the target of 100% clean and renewable energy statewide by 2045


Other World Nations

The UK government has set a very ambitious NDC68% GHG reduction by 2035 (compared to 1990 levels). Likewise, Sweden has a very ambitious NDCat least 63% GHG reduction by 2030 (compared to 1990 levels) in “EU Effort Sharing Regulation” sectors, and even higher levels of ambition in other sectors. The Swedes also started to set their net zero by 2045 target into national law all the way back in 2017. Other world nations, from Switzerland to Costa Rica also have ambitious NDCs.

In April 2021, Canada ramped up their NDC to at least 40% GHG reduction by 2030 (compared to 2005 levels). Shortly after, the Canadian government passed legislation committing to a national net zero by 2050 target. Canada also has been implementing progressive carbon pricing nationwide, with the aim of getting to net zero.

Australia differs from Canada and the EU in that the country has not legislated ramped-up targets. The Australian government has officially announced that the initial NDC set in the Paris Climate Accord is “…a floor…” (at least 26% GHG reduction by 2030 compared to 2005 levels), and that the country is on course to “…overachieve on this target…”; as well as a national goal to achieve net zero “…as soon as possible”. Australia has committed to net zero by 2050 just ahead of COP26 in Glasgow, however, the commitment hasn’t been legislated, so it isn’t legally binding. 

Ahead of the Paris Climate Accord, China initially announced it would be lowering carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by 60% to 65% from the 2005 level. China is currently the world’s largest emitter of GHGs, and its attempts to meet its carbon intensity targets are rated ‘inadequate’ by the Climate Action Tracker. Despite this, China now aims to hit the target of net zero by 2060; and is trying to stay on course to reach its original NDC target.

India initially pledged to reduce the emissions intensity of its national GDP by 33-35% by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. India also intends to produce a significant amount of additional forest and tree cover (for carbon sequestration, in order to achieve carbon neutrality). India also intends to invest a substantial amount in renewable energy and energy efficiency; but on this and indeed their overall emissions targets, India can be vague on how it plans to achieve them. India has yet to make a net zero commitment, despite the over 100 other nations that made net zero commitments before COP26 in Glasgow. 

Until recently, Japan had been slow to reduce its national GHG emissions, despite an ambitious pledge of 80% emissions reduction by 2050. However, in November 2020, Japan made an even more ambitious pledge of net zero by 2050 (or…”as close as possible to 2050″). Like China, Japan has been dependent on coal (especially after increasing coal energy on the national grid following the Fukushima nuclear disaster). However, Japan now says it is committed to shutting down its coal-fired power plants; and developing more renewable energy in its place. The Japanese government says that “Japan will strive to achieve a decarbonized society by as close as possible to 2050“. Japan has an interim NDC of 26% GHG reduction by 2030 (compared to 2013 levels).


Here is a summary of the most recent nationally determined contributions from nations discussed in this article, heading into COP26 in Glasgow: 

EU’s NDCreduce GHGs by 55% below 1990 levels by 2030 

UK’s NDCreduce economy-wide GHGs by at least 68% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels 

USA’s NDC: at least a 50% reduction in GHGs by 2030 compared to 2005 levels

China’s NDC: to achieve the peaking of carbon dioxide emissions around 2030 and to lower carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by 60% to 65% from the 2005 level

India’s NDCreduce the emissions intensity of its national GDP by 33-35% by 2030 compared to 2005 levels

Germany’s NDCpreliminary targets of cutting emissions by at least 65% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels, and 88% by 2040 

Sweden’s NDC: at least 63% GHG reduction by 2030 compared to 1990 levels

Japan’s NDCreduce GHGs by 46% by 2030 from its fiscal year 2013 levels 

Australia’s NDCan economy-wide target to reduce GHGs by 26 to 28% below 2005 levels by 2030 

Canada’s NDCreduce emissions by 40-45% below 2005 levels by 2030 


COP and CAT (Conference of the Parties and Climate Action Tracker)

Countries set interim targets (mostly targetting 2030), and now largely many major world nations are en route to net zero. Upon setting an initial interim target in the Paris Climate Accord, countries are supposed to ramp up their interim 2030 NDC targets on a 5-year basis (or ideally, more frequently), and with the latest IPCC guidance; strongly encouraged to set net zero targets. Every 5 years, all UNFCCC member nations are required to submit new NDCs. Due to COVID-19, the year 2020 was just a low-profile virtual meeting; and the formal UNFCCC COP (in which all new NDCs from all UNFCCC member nations is due) will be COP26 in Glasgow.

The CAT Consortium runs the Climate Action Tracker, which grades each nation on how useful its promises actually are. Each nation’s NDC shapes to ‘current policy’ scenario in the CAT chart below. The ideal ‘optimistic’ scenarios are based on the most ambitious net zero emissions by 2050 targets being fully realized. How are current climate policies worldwide (NDCs) going to actually reduce global greenhouse gas emissions as world nations try to achieve net zero GHGs (carbon neutrality) in order to stop global warming? This chart, from Climate Action Tracker (CAT), models current climate policy outcomes, as well as optimistic net zero targets, to 2100>>>

Current climate policies vs. optimistic net zero targets – CAT


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COP21 – good news for the planet

Paris Climate Accord, and New Net Zero Targets |


NDCs and Net Zero Pledges

At COP21, commonly referred to as the Paris Climate Accord, nations sent representatives to pledge greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) reduction targets (also known as Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs). At the annual Conference of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), national dignitaries & diplomats from every UNFCCC member nation convene to assess and calibrate their NDCs.

The first concrete NDCs by UNFCCC member nations were made at the COP21 in Paris 2015, and have since evolved with the latest scientific guidance from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC); ideally to the most ambitious GHG reduction pledge a nation can possibly make – a carbon neutrality pledge (net zero GHGs).

In order to FULLY participate in the Paris Climate Accord, EVERY member nation to the UNFCCC must submit Intended Nationally Determined Contributions of GHG reduction pledges for their country;. These pledges must be approved by the UNFCCC, and then pledges turn into official Nationally Determined Contributions.

NDCs are encouraged by the UN to get increasingly ambitious each time they are submitted; and especially every 5 years, when every UNFCCC member is required to submit revised NDCs. Based on the latest scientific guidance from the IPCC, now many nations have net zero (carbon neutrality) targets in addition to their NDC.

As climate science has evolved over the last few years, GHG reduction targets have become more ambitious; and this is reflected in ambitious targets such as the European Union’s pledge to cut carbon emissions to 55% of 1990 levels by 2030; on its way to net zero by 2050. President Biden has pledged that the United States will have 100% carbon free energy on its electric grids by 2035; on its path to net zero.

Many developed nations, including the EU group of countries, the US, the UK, other European nations & Japan, have set ambitious targets to reach net zero GHG emissions by 2050; China has set their net zero target date at 2060.

The Paris Climate Accord is not legally binding, so actual binding NDCs must originate from national, state, and regional, governments (when not put forward by a national government, but rather by state or regional governments; these commitments are simply referred to as GHG reduction pledges, or carbon reduction pledges).

In the case of the EU,  NDC targets and net zero targets are codified into law by legislation that is passed by the European Commission. Several European governments have also independently passed ambitious climate legislation including NDCs and net zero targets.

The United States federal government has the executive commitment of President Biden to ambitious climate pledges (as of 2021), but Congress hasn’t yet passed legislation committing to NDCs or a net zero target like the EU (as well as several European nations independently).

However, individual states (such as California and several others) have passed GHG reduction targets and net zero targets state-wide; through State Congresses as binding legislation. It is expected that all NDC and net zero commitments that the Chinese national government makes, will be codified into legally binding law in China. In fact, over 100 countries worldwide have joined an alliance aiming for net zero emissions by 2050

China has set its net zero target for 2060; and soon thereafter, the US committed to net zero by 2050 (historically, China & the US are the 2 biggest emitters of GHGs); and both of these net zero commitments followed the earlier European carbon neutrality pledges. China set their net zero target in September 2020; while the US net zero pledge was made by President Biden upon taking office, in January 2021.

These net zero pledges represent ambitious goals to keep global warming well below 2°C (that’s 2°C rise above pre-industrial global temperature averages), and ideally to 1.5°C this century; making good on the latest IPCC climate targets. Here is a map from BloombergNEF with countries’ various degrees of progress to net zero:

Map of Global Net-Zero Progress from BloombergNEF


COP21 – The Paris Climate Accord

On December 12, 2015, high-level representatives from 197 nations, including many presidents and prime ministers, agreed to try to hold global warming “well below” 2 °C above pre-industrial temperatures. Clean and renewable energy targets, energy efficiency technologies for nations and industries, concerted efforts in green building, and sustainable mass transit; are among many means the UNFCC advises nations to invest in to help create a more sustainable planet. On November 4, 2016, the agreement took full effect (once nations representing a majority of the planet’s GHG emissions signed the agreement).

Unfortunately, the truth is that, even if the original Paris Climate Accord is carried out by every nation, and to the letter, global temperatures will still be on course to rise by around 2.7-3.1°C by the end of the century. Thus, the need for more ambitious GHG reduction pledges; ideally national commitments to net zero emissions, are necessary. Every world nation (with a few exceptions), UNFCC members, originally signed the agreement, and 190 have ratified and pledged NDCs.



The Breakthrough Energy Coalition

Breakthrough – The Paris Climate Accord did produce lasting positive momentum for global action on climate change. Arguably, the best news of the entire COP21 came on Day 1 of COP21, with the announcement of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition (breakthroughenergy.com). The Breakthrough Energy Coalition, known as Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV), is a group of more than 20 billionaires started by Bill Gates (including Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, Mark Zuckerberg {CEO of Facebook}, and others), who have organized to invest substantial sums in innovative clean energy.

The Coalition wouldn’t be able to fund and meet all of its goals without the most important international commitment by governments to invest in clean energy to date; Mission Innovation. Mission Innovation (mission-innovation.net) is a group of 20 countries including the U.S., Brazil, China, Japan, Germany, France, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea; who have pledged to double government investment in clean energy innovation and to be transparent about its clean energy research and development efforts. In a statement from BEV, the importance of both groups is highlighted –

“THE WORLD NEEDS WIDELY AVAILABLE ENERGY that is reliable, affordable and does not produce carbon. The only way to accomplish that goal is by developing new tools to power the world. That innovation will result from a dramatically scaled up public research pipeline linked to truly patient, flexible investments committed to developing the technologies that will create a new energy mix. The Breakthrough Energy Coalition is working together with a growing group of visionary countries who are significantly increasing their public research pipeline through the Mission Innovation initiative to make that future a reality.”   – quote from The Breakthrough Energy Coalition


The High Ambition Coalition

The High Ambition Coalition (HAC) is a group of over 40 developing countries formed by UNFCCC members determined to create an equitable distribution of responsibility for ambitious climate action, and a fair distribution of UN clean energy resources; fairer distribution among poorer nations and richer, developed, industrialized nations. The HAC initially included smaller, poorer nations such as the Marshall Islands, the nation that originally formed the HAC.

“The Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) formed the High Ambition Coalition in run-up negotiations at the UNFCCC to the Paris Agreement in 2015, helping to secure key elements of the deal, including the 1.5°C temperature goal, the net zero global emissions pathway by the second half of the century, and a five-year cycle for updating mitigation contributions.

Since then, the HAC has worked to realize the promises of the Paris Agreement it came together to deliver. The work has accelerated and expanded in scope, driving forward ambitious global climate action. And the science has only become clearer since Paris, underscoring the imperative of keeping global temperature increase to 1.5°C if we are to avert the most severe impacts of climate change.”   quote from – highambitioncoalition.org/work

Main contributions by the HAC include the ambitious target of 1.5°C, and the 5-year cycle for UNFCC members to submit revised pledges. COP26 in Glasgow is the first such mandatory revision of nationally determined contributions to GHG reduction, as 2015 was a low-profile virtual meeting due to COVID-19.

The European Union is the highest-profile, and richest, group of nations to join the HAC. The HAC consists mostly of developing nations; such as Mexico, Argentina, Costa Rica, and Ethiopia; and smaller, developing island-nations such as Jamaica and Fiji. With Canada joining the HAC in September 2020, the HAC is comprised of over 40 nations; but the focus of the coalition remains equity for developing nations in the Paris Climate Accord’s future dealings.

Historically, since larger, richer nations have profited from industrialization at the expense of the global climate; the responsibility for climate change is greater for developed nations, and these nations should bear more of the financial burden stemming from the global transition from fossil fuels to clean energy.



Current Climate Policies Projection

How are current climate policies worldwide, current GHG reduction targets (nationally determined contributions), going to actually reduce global GHGs as world nations try to achieve net zero GHGs (carbon neutrality) in order to stop global warming? This chart, from Climate Action Tracker (CAT), models current climate policy outcomes, as well as optimistic net zero targets, to 2100>>>

Current climate policies vs. optimistic net zero targets – CAT

Below are some major resources for more information on the COP21:

COP21 Paris – breakdown of the event

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Permanent ban on new coal mines and other sustainability priorities

Climate Priority Pathways & Policies |


Strategies for mitigating climate change

What are the best strategies for mitigating global warming? How is the United States going to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions? Carbon pricing? The Green New Deal? Here’s a brief list of sustainability priorities that the United States should implement in order to avoid contributing to the most catastrophic consequences of anthropogenic climate change:


Priority Climate Actions for the US government

The United States federal government under Biden; all relevant Climate, Energy, and Environment executive administrative agencies must implement the following priorities. Also, ideally Congress and/ or state legislatures & governors must focus on priorities outlined in GCT’s Climate Public Policies article.   


Regulations

  • The EPA under Biden needs to work on ensuring environmental regulations are put back in place; including air, water, and land pollution and GHGs regulatory rollbacks, now that the Trump administration is gone. “Most of these [environmental protection] rollbacks can be reversed by the Biden administration, but it will take some concerted effort. [Berkeley Law] has compiled nearly 200 rollbacks, listed here“.   FROM  –  law.berkeley.edu/research/clee/reversing-environmental-rollbacks
  • A permanent moratorium on new coal plants legislated and mandated by the U.S. federal government, or at least by a majority of U.S. states. Pursue a just transition for coal country (e.g. retraining coal miners, other coal industry employees, in clean energy jobs. Just transition assistance with clean energy job placement; financial assistance to coal communities as local coal industry-dependent economies transition to clean energy economies). Existing coal mines are phased out completely by 2040 at the latest during the energy transition to clean energy in the U.S.
  • Permanent ban on all drilling for oil & gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Moratorium on all mining in ANWR & in all public lands and waters of the United States. Ban on oil & gas drilling on federal lands & waters in the U.S. (Biden has effectively done most of the current moratoriums on drilling/ mining on federal lands/ waters with executive actions – now these bans must be made permanent with legislation through Congress).
  • Ban all Canadian tar sands oil imports and close tar sands oil pipelines – so that means ban all trains and pipelines that transport tar sands oil from Canada to the U.S., and stop the development of the Keystone XL pipeline – which Biden now has issued an executive order to do. The development of the Dakota Access pipeline should have effectively been stopped by the order of a federal judge in 2020. However, the case is still being bandied about the courts, pending ‘environmental review’, among other legal issues. Biden and Congress could shut the Dakota Access pipeline down, along with ensuring similar dirty tar sand oil pipelines are shut-down; especially the Line 3 pipeline.

Paris; UN Sustainability Goals; Climate & Land-use Targets

  • Rejoin the international community on climate. The United States must make good on commitments made at the 2015 Paris Climate Accord before trying to put into U.S. law (through Congress) parts of new policies like sections of the Green New Deal (GND). This is true for even less dramatic policies than the GND, like the various federal carbon pricing proposals circulating Congress. Now that the Biden administration has rejoined Paris, the U.S. must try and achieve the more ambitious Carbon Neutrality Coalition (CNC) goal of carbon neutrality by 2050, and join the CNC. Even if any part of The Green New Deal does get passed by Congress and signed into law by Biden, the U.S. must still try to achieve goals set at the Paris Climate Accord. The U.S. must maintain its commitments to vital measures; such as ambitious GHG reduction goals.
  • The U.S. will try to pull its own weight on climate, energy, the environment, and other sustainability goals.
  • The sustainability and clean energy measures listed above in this article should be implemented by the U.S. government; even if the efforts fall short of the ambitious climate, energy, environment, and social justice targets outlined in The Green New Deal. It is recommended that the US federal government, or just individual states, consider passing carbon pricing legislation; similar to California’s emissions trading system (ETS); or an ETS similar to the one conducted by 10 Northeastern states (11 with Virginia joining in 2021) – the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).   
  • The United States must ensure (through the EPA); or ideally pass legislation through Congress – setting GHG reduction, decarbonization targets for the U.S. in order to meet all ambitious goals to meet the climate targets set by the United States at the Paris Climate Accord. Biden has pledged to decarbonize the energy generation sector (for electricity generation) by 2035, and to achieve net zero emissions (carbon neutrality targets) by 2050 – these represent significantly ambitious climate targets.
  • All regulations for fossil fuel developments that were mandated under President Obama’s Clean Power Plan (CPP), which mirror GHG reduction targets initially set at the 2015 Paris Climate Accord must be enforced at a minimum. Based on the new, more ambitious direction of the international community on climate change mitigation; even more ambitious targets than were originally set up by Obama’s CPP should be new targets for the Biden administration. Greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. power plants will need to meet the most ambitious standards set by the Paris Climate Accord; and continue to evolve with new guidance from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – and which now are GHG reduction targets aligned with carbon neutrality by 2050.
  • Expand, protect, restore, and maintain U.S. protected public wilderness, parks, nature reserves, natural monuments, and all U.S. public lands.
  • Tax incentives/ direct government subsidies for sustainable agriculture (encourage farms to adopt practices such as cover crops, agroforestry, other common sustainable agriculture practices.


There were a few significant events which showed strong signs of global progress, with the United States as an occasional global leader on climate action; in terms of addressing anthropogenic climate change in 2014-2015, leading to the Paris Climate Accord:

  1. the Pope’s Encyclical on Climate Change
  2. Obama’s CPP
  3. Paris Climate Accord

These events represented true progress. We must get back to this momentum.

The new climate envoy and related staff, John Kerry and his staff, for the new executive climate department of the U.S. government; and the new Biden Administration picks for EPA, Energy, Interior, and other climate related cabinet positions – should get the U.S. back on track as far as ambitious climate policies based on the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change guidance. The COP26 in Glasgow should provide a beacon of hope for the global clean energy transition.

On day one of his presidency, Biden rejoined the Paris climate accord, and canceled further U.S. development of the Keystone pipeline, as well as discontinuing any further U.S. investment in the Keystone pipeline (stopping any use of the pipeline for Canadian tar sands oil). Now Biden and Congress just need to tackle the above priorities (including stopping at least 2 more major Canadian tar sands oil pipelines). Relevant parts of the Biden administration (EPA, the new Climate executive department, Energy, Interior) need to start issuing incremental policies (such as those listed above) to address sustainable climate solutions to meet new IPCC guidance. Public policies that are recommended for the United States to pursue as far as climate, energy, and the environment, please see: GCT’s CLIMATE PUBLIC POLICIES article.


The United States federal government (through Congress), or individual states (through state legislatures), should at least consider passing legislation from the various carbon pricing proposals circulating Congress. Please see: GCT’s EU and US climate progress, carbon pricing, and carbon tax articles; for more insight on the range of carbon pricing legislation measures proposed and in effect globally.


Big Oil (and gas) and Big Coal, in the United States as in much of the rest of the world, finance the campaigns of many politicians and have successfully been able to slow down progress on some major climate goals. How much of the Clean Power Plan had the Trump administration, Congressional Republicans, and the EPA under Trump been able to stop?  The EPA under the Trump administration had been able to stop or reverse the ambitious goals of the CPP and Paris Climate Accord in some, Republican-controlled, states.

However, many states and cities in the United States have stayed on track to meet the initial requirements of the Clean Power Plan and the Paris Climate Accord; as individual states (like California, many states in the Northeast, several other states) have remained committed to the ambitious climate goals of the CPP and Paris Climate Accord; and remain committed to achieving the latest climate targets set by the IPCC. Please see: greencitytimes.blogspot.com/elements-of-clean-power-plan-still-move and: greencitytimes.blogspot.com/was-clean-power-plan-just-wiped-out.


Some U.S. states have even more ambitious strategies to reduce GHGs and fight climate change than put forth in the CPP, or at Paris in 2015; closer to the carbon neutrality targets set by the latest IPCC guidance.

Examples of states with ambitious climate mitigation plans include: states like California, Hawaii, Washington, New Mexico, as well as several states in the Northeast U.S., a few other states (all are states which have passed bills through their states’ legislatures that mandate 100% renewable energy within the next 3 decades for their entire state; or at least 100% clean energy ). New York City is even planning a congestion levy for cars in the city center of NYC); and is investing substantial support for electric vehicles – like the development of extensive EV charging stations, as well as other EV infrastructure.


Carbon pricing, fiscal incentives for clean energy technologies, and incentives for clean energy job growth are among public policies that would benefit the environmental health of the planet by increasing investment in clean and renewable energy; helping in the fight against climate change by reducing GHGs from energy production.

Policies supporting clean energy job growth would also help the economy. Here is an article by Green City Times – a guide to needed public policies for environmental (as well as economic) sustainability, including our complete take on the Green New Deal – greencitytimes.com/stabilize-greenhouse-gas-emissions-2



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Shortfall in International GHG Reduction Pledges

Shortfall in International NDCs |


Is the World Going to Meet its Climate Targets?

There is a substantial shortfall between GHG emission reduction pledges that almost 200 countries have made, and global climate reality. Worldwide, almost 200 countries have set climate targets – independently, and internationally all member-nations of the UNFCCC* have recommended targets.

The international pledges are known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs)  – and can be compared to UN recommendations. The international NDCs made at the Paris Climate Accord represent a problematic shortfall compared to the reality of what greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) the planet has in store for its future. [*UNFCCC is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change]

At the same time, there is also a genuine, continuing effort by the world’s countries to try to limit global temperature rise to below 2° Celsius average global temperature increase (above pre-industrial era global temperature averages) by the end of this century. 2° C is the number that represents saving the planet from the worst effects of climate change.

The UNFCCC advises all world governments that a reduction in global GHGs (NDCs) by 7.6% annually for the next decade is required to meet the ambitious 1.5°C Paris target (see below).



What Measures are Needed to Reach Climate Targets?

In order to prevent the most damaging effects of climate change, the international community has pledged (both in the COP21 at Paris, and in subsequent years) to increase the use of such sustainability technologies like renewable energy and energy efficiency measures; while simultaneously decreasing fossil fuel use, in order to mitigate GHGs…emissions which lead to global temperature rise.

The idea is to keep global temperature rise to well under 2°C (compared to historical values, usually mid-19th century) by the end of this century. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) advises that world nations must increase ambition/ investment in clean & renewable energy, energy efficiency, clean transportation, and green building, in order to keep global warming well below 2°C this century. **The ambitious recommended IPCC limit to global warming is for the world to stay to no more than 1.5°C temperature rise above pre-industrial average global temperatures this century. Global average temperatures are already over 1° increase; using scientifically accepted metrics of measuring global temperature rise to assess the last 150-170 years; thus 1.5° is rapidly approaching.


Global Warming Reality vs. Paris Pledges

The reality is that the average global temperature rise will likely be significantly greater than what was promised at Paris – barring concerted, ambitious climate action by the international community. A 4.1-4.8°C degrees rise in average global temperatures would result if the world simply maintains the status quo. The world is thankfully not simply going to maintain the status quo in reality. This is evidenced by progressive net zero targets by the US and China (among many other nations), and best exemplified by ambitious climate action by the EU and especially Northern European countries.

The Paris pledges, as well as actions by nations, industries, and private investors, after COP21, demonstrate a genuine global effort. This global effort to reach climate goals involves the research, development, and effective use of sustainable low- or zero-emissions technologies and measures. Of course, this is great, but global temperature rise is still projected to be over the global temperature goals committed to in Paris.

In other words, a 2+°C change over the acceptable 2°C limit by the end of this century will result even if all pledges by all countries are actually met. Even in this somewhat positive scenario (and in the realistic best-case scenarios), as of now, there is still a shortfall – this NYTimes interactive piece clearly illustrates this problem — for the original 2015 NYTimes interactive click>>> http://tinyurl.com/gct333

If all nearly 200 nations keep all of their promises from COP21, global temperature rise will be limited to just 0.035°C (0.063°F) annually (best case). Even if every government on the planet that participated in COP21 keeps every Paris promise, reduces GHG emissions as promised, and shifts no emissions to other countries; and also keeps these emission reductions going throughout the rest of the century – the average projected global temperature rise will be kept to just 3°C (5.4°F) by the year 2100.

United States Future Climate Ambition

Obama’s Clean Power Plan, his moratorium on drilling for oil in the Atlantic, the U.S.’s 3-year moratorium on building coal mines on federal land represented progress on climate goals that was, and still is, the best hope for America to do its part. Now that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are the new United States President and Vice President; and Democrats are in charge of both the House of Representatives and the Senate, the United States will rejoin the international community focused on climate action. Progressive action on climate will be legislated and, in some cases, mandated, both nationally and state-by-state.

First and foremost, this means rejoining the Paris Climate Accord; and working to achieve the latest global decarbonization goals of the International Panel on Climate Change. Relevant U.S Environmental, Energy, and Climate executive administration agencies are now focused on action for sustainability agendas.

The United States government is also poised to invest substantially in clean energy infrastructure, clean energy job development, environmental protections, and in many other significant sustainable climate, energy, environmental, and economic/job growth US sectors. For a complete list of the latest GCT recommended US climate priorities, including ambitious priorities such as carbon neutrality for the U.S. by 2050 – please see – Permanent ban on new coal mines and other sustainability priorities for the United States.

The Rest of The World

China looking to shut down older coal power plants is a very positive sign. Promising signs include the global increased development and use of renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies. Energy transition progress is also seen in substantial increases in electric vehicles in Northern European nations, Asia, and much of the both the developed and developing world. Europe has been leading the way on ambitious climate action for many years.

European nations are independently setting ambitious net zero goals of 2050 (or even sooner in a couple cases). The European Union passed legislation that also targets net zero GHG emissions by 2050,. Even before President Biden announced a net zero by 2050 target for the United States, China set a net zero target of 2060.

However, optimism, in the face of the undeniable math of GHG reduction targets, reality, and the true effort it will take to reach ambitious climate goals, such as carbon neutrality by 2050; clearly tells us more needs to be done.



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The UNFCCC

UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – Conference of the Parties

World leaders, dignitaries, and diplomats, from almost 200 nations, assemble every year for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. UNFCCC members assess international progress in mitigating global anthropogenic climate change.

Members also negotiate protocols and treaties between countries, further addressing the plethora of climate-related issues. The annual UNFCCC meetings are called Conference of the Parties (COP). Since 1994, the COP has convened annually at a different international city for the meetings (the most famous COP being COP21 in Paris in 2015, commonly known as the Paris Climate Accord).

The COPs include the following international discussions:

All of these discussions (among other global sustainability issues), discussed by UNFCC members at the COPs, are intended to produce viable solutions to meet the goal of dramatically reducing global GHGs. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) advises that to avoid potentially catastrophic effects of climate change, world governments need to reduce GHGs substantially in order to keep global warming to “well below 2°C”; and ideally to no more than 1.5°C, this century.


COP21 – the Paris Climate Accord

Almost every nation in the world has now signed the initial Paris Climate Accord (all 197 member nations to the UNFCC have signed the Accord; 190 of the 197 nations have ratified the Accord and have also pledged NDCs).

Even a few nation-states that aren’t in the UN, like the State of Palestine and the Cook Islands, signed as member nations to the Paris Climate Accord. The United States was the only nation to announce a pull-out from the Paris Accord, though this never really took effect; and President Biden brought the US back into the Paris Climate Accord.

NDCs have progressed to the point where many nations have taken the step of pledging net zero GHG emissions (carbon neutrality). China has set their net zero target for 2060; and soon after, the US committed to net zero by 2050; and both of these net zero commitments followed earlier European carbon neutrality pledges. The EU has a net zero target of 2050, and a few European nations independently have the same, or even more ambitious, targets.

These net zero pledges represent ambitious goals to keep global warming well below 2°C (that’s 2°C rise above pre-industrial global temperature averages), and ideally to 1.5°C, this century; making good on the latest IPCC climate targets. In future COPs, such as the COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, expect international net zero pledges to expand, and become a regular part of UNFCCC language; along with the term – ambitious climate targets.


For more details on NDCs, please see:

The Fight Against Climate Change – National Carbon Reduction Goals


Putting a Price on Carbon – Establishing Carbon Markets

Perhaps the most contentious topic to be discussed at the COPs is carbon pricing; systems in which governments can incentivize carbon-intensive industries, entire countries, and regions, to lower their GHG emissions by pricing carbon dioxide emissions.

Experts on climate mitigation policies believe that international carbon pricing systems may ensure the quickest path to net zero emissions (carbon neutrality). Individual nations, states, and provinces, continue to ultimately decide on carbon pricing legislation; as well as the inner-workings of any carbon pricing system, including whether any potential national or regional carbon pricing system is to function as a carbon tax, or  cap-and-trade/ emissions trading system (ETS).

This process of high-level intergovernmental discussions of potentially mandating national prices on carbon could be encouraged by the UNFCCC in the future. If the UNFCCC took the step of directing nations to adopt carbon pricing, global warming would almost certainly be abated sooner than without prices on carbon emissions worldwide.

The European Union already does have carbon pricing – the EU ETS. Launched in 2005, the EU ETS has gradually evolved from a very low price on carbon, to a slightly higher one; and it’s expected that the European Commission will continue to increase the EU ETS carbon price with the continued evolution of climate ambition. Other European nations have independently developed an ETS and/ or a carbon tax; and many other countries, states, provinces, and regions worldwide, have also developed carbon pricing.

For more on carbon pricing around the world, please see: Putting a Price on Carbon. There has been significant progress made through recent COPs on the topic of carbon pricing, as described in this quote- “Leaders across the Americas have pledged to step up the use of carbon pricing as a key instrument of economic and environmental policy to reduce carbon emissions.” FROM- unfccc.int/news/leaders-across-the-americas-step-up-carbon-pricing.



There is currently a significant gap in the commitments that nations worldwide have made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and the reality of global warming still accelerating at a perilous pace. Green City Times has written about the–

Shortfall in International GHG Pledges

This following quote is by António Guterres, the current United Nations Secretary-General-

“In 2015, the world’s nations recognized the urgency and magnitude of the [global climate change] challenge when they adopted the historic Paris Agreement on climate change with a goal of limiting global average temperature rise to well below 2 °C; while aiming for a safe 1.5 °C target. The unity forged in Paris was laudable – and overdue. But, for all its significance, Paris was a beginning, not an end. The world is currently not on track to achieve the Paris targets. We need urgent climate action and greatly increased ambition – in emissions reductions and in promoting adaptation to current and future impacts of climate change.” FROM- unfccc.int/resource/annualreport



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