The Truth Behind the Climate Pledges

Ranking the Climate Pledges

The climate pledges are voluntary and use different metrics. Not all climate pledges actually commit to reducing emissions between 2020 and 2030. Thus, the 184 climate pledges were categorized based on their emission reduction commitments into:

 
Sufficient

Climate pledges with commitments equal or above 40% emission reductions. These pledges are broadly in line with the need to at least half emissions by 2030.

 
Partially Sufficient

Climate pledges with commitments between 20-40% emission reductions. The countries under this category need to do much better to reduce emissions.

 
Partially Insufficient

Based on two criteria:

  1. Pledges below 20% emission reductions show some, but insufficient, ambition to address climate change.
  2. Pledges with conditional commitments where the country is implementing more than 50% of the pledge from their own resources (or 50% conditional). It shows some effort from the country to reduce emissions.
 
Insufficient

Based on four criteria:

  1. Pledges with no emission reduction targets, which cannot be quantified or measured.
  2. Pledges with commitments that rely more than 50% on international financial support show minimal effort from the country to reduce emissions.
  3. Pledges with intensity targets. These commitments focus on emissions per unit of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This metric is measured in CO2 or GHG emissions per $1000 dollar GDP. These pledges mostly equal an increase in emissions until 2030 above the current level due to economic growth outstripping the rate of decrease in carbon/GHG intensity.
  4. Pledges using business as usual (BAU) targets. These pledges are based on emission reductions below a projected level of future emissions in 2030 if no actions or policies are implemented. These commitments mostly equal an increase in emission in 2030 above the latest level of emissions reported by each country.

The result of this categorization is that 26 percent of the 184 climate pledges are partially or totally sufficient and 74 percent are totally or partially insufficient to reduce global emissions by 50 percent by 2030 (Figure 1).

 

 

 

 

See the interactive map with the ranking of the climate pledges

 

The emission reduction commitments stated in the 184 climate pledges under each category are detailed here.

The need to at least double or triple the efforts to reduce emissions require a closer analysis of the pledges from the top emitters –China, the United States, the European Union (and its 28 Member States) and India. Emissions from these countries combined account for 56 percent of global GHG emissions, and 60 percent of global CO2 emissions14 (Figure 2).

China

China is the second largest economy in the world. From 1990 to 2010, the average Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate has been 10 percent a year. Since 2010, the GDP growth rate has slightly declined, to an annual average of 8 percent. This is four times more than the GDP growth rates of the United States and the European Union.

Because China’s emissions are linked to its economic growth, China has become  the largest emitter of GHGs and CO2 in the world, currently accounting for about 27 and 29 percent respectively15. However, historically China’s emissions were much lower than most industrialized countries. Since 1990 and due to the rapid expansion of China’s economy, its carbon emissions per person have increased fourfold, reaching 8 tons of CO2 per person a year in 2018. However, this is still less than half of a person’s emissions in the United States or Canada, but more than a person’s emissions in the United Kingdom and France16.

China made an unconditional climate pledge that includes four targets:

  1. To reduce CO2 emissions per unit of GDP by 60-65 percent from 2005 level.

In their pledge, China states that CO2 emissions per unit of GDP have been lowered by 33.8 percent from 2005 level in 2014. Using two datasets17, the decrease is between 26.2 and 27.1 percent reduction in China’s carbon intensity from 2005 to 2014. A reason for this discrepancy may be that the unit used for this calculation is not specified in China’s pledge. Despite this systemic difference, China has reduced its carbon intensity since 2005. China may reach their carbon intensity target of 60-65 percent reduction before 2030.

However, China’s CO2 emissions have increased by 80 percent from 6.3 GtCO2 in 2005 to 11.3 GtCO2 in 201818.

China’s pledge is indeed encouraging, but it will not result in a decrease in CO2 emissions below current levels. Thus, China’s pledge was deemed insufficient to contribute to reducing global emissions by 50 percent by 2030.

2. To peak CO2 emissions around 2030, making best efforts to peak earlier.

China’s pledge is to reduce its carbon intensity, but this reduction will not stop the increasing trend in CO2 emissions for at least one more decade. In fact, China’s emissions are expected to increase until 2030 due its projected rate of economic growth.

3. To increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 20 percent.

More than 85 percent of the primary energy in China is currently produced by fossil fuels. Coal accounts for 60 percent of the total primary energy generation. In 2017, non-fossil sources accounted for 14 percent of China’s primary energy –2 percent nuclear, 8 percent hydroelectric and 4 percent renewables19. In addition to producing and providing renewable technology for most of the world, China’s domestic use of renewables has significantly increased, by more than six-fold since 2010. This trend is continuing, with a 30 percent increase of wind and solar power in 201720.

The target of increasing the share of non-fossil energy to 20 percent could be reached by 2030 by continuing to increase renewables at the current rate, without additional efforts. However, the expansion of renewables cannot compensate the lack of action to reduce China’s coal consumption and, thus, increasing CO2 emissions.

4. To increase the forest stock volume by around 4.5 billion cubic meters from 2005 levels

In their pledge, China states that by 2014 the forest stock volume had increased by 2.188 billion cubic meters compared to 2005 levels –or about half of the pledge’s target. The forested area surface has been increased by 21.6 million hectares. This surface is comparable to about half of the surface of California or about a third of France. Such increase in the forest stock volume would store about two percent of China’s current CO2 emissions (about 200 MtCO2 per year). An additional two-fold increase in the forest stock volume by 2030 means that China would store about four percent of current CO2 emissions.

United States

The United States is the largest economy in the world, with an average GDP growth rate of two percent a year since 2000. It is the second largest GHGs and CO2 emitter in the world, accounting for about 13 and 14 percent respectively21. Historically the United States has been the largest emitter in the world.

 Its CO2 emissions per person are among the highest globally, despite the transition from a manufacturing-based to a service-driven economy. The current carbon emissions per person are 16 tons of CO2 per year. That means that every person in the United States emits double what a person in Malaysia, or four times what a person in Mexico does22.

In 2015, and for the first time, the United States committed to reducing “GHG emissions by 26-28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025”. In 2017, however, the current administration announced the United States withdrawal from the Paris Agreement23. In addition, key federal regulations that would enable the United States to meet its pledge have been recently suspended, revised or rescinded.

Most importantly, the Clean Power Plan has been repealed. It set the first-ever carbon pollution standards for power plants in the United States, giving States flexible, cost-effective tools to cut CO2 emissions from coal-fired plants by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

While the original pledge would have been deemed partially sufficient to assist in reducing global emissions by 50 percent by 2030, because of the reversal in federal policy since 2017, the United States’ pledge was deemed insufficient.

Offsetting the reversal in federal policy, states across the U.S. are leading the renewable energy transition. For example, Iowa, South Dakota and Kansas are generating about than 30 percent of their electricity from wind; California, Hawaii and Vermont are generating about 10 percent from solar24. Cities are also transitioning to renewable sources of energy. More than 130 cities committed to 100 percent renewable electricity, and six small cities have already achieved the target –Aspen, CO (population: 7,500); Burlington, VT (population: 42,000); Georgetown, TX (population: 50,000); Greensburg, KS (population: 778); Rock Port, MO (population: 1,200) and Kodiak Island, AK (population: 6,000)25.

Some of these commitments are being implemented under the America’s Pledge initiative26. The analysis of these commitments estimates that the United States could reduce emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 202527. In addition, other initiatives and campaigns are focused on retiring coal-fired power plants. More than half of the 530 coal-fired power plants in the United States have been retired or are proposed to be retired by 203028.

These State and local initiatives and campaigns are indeed critical steps in the right direction.

In addition, almost half of the States have also been implementing fuel efficiency and CO2 emissions standards for cars and light trucks. These fuel efficiency standards would have almost doubled the fuel economy of passenger vehicles by 2025 while saving families and businesses nearly $2 trillion over the lives of vehicles. New and amended nationwide standards have been recently proposed for vehicles model year 2021 to 2026. Most importantly, the proposed amended standards would further increase emissions from the transportation sector, currently accounting for the majority of CO2 emissions, with almost 40 percent29.

For the last two decades, the U.S. has been and still is producing 80 percent of its energy (for electricity, heating and transportation) from fossil fuels.

Until the share of fossil fuel use in the United States energy mix is significantly reduced, State and local efforts will not compensate for the lack of decisive federal action to reduce emissions.

European Union

Including some of the richest economies in the world, the European Union (28 nations) is the third largest GHGs and CO2 emitter in the world, accounting for nine and ten percent respectively30.

While sustaining its economic growth, at an annual average GDP growth rate of two percent, the EU has already reduced its GHG emissions in 2017 by about 17 percent from 1990 levels31. CO2 emissions decreased by about 22 percent compared to 1990 in 2018. Some European Union Member States, however, are still dependent on fossil fuels for their electricity and heat generation.

The largest CO2 contributors within the European Union in 2018 were Germany (22 percent), the United Kingdom (10.7 percent), Italy (10 percent), Poland (9.6 percent) and France (9.3 percent)32. CO2 emissions per person in some European Union countries are relatively high. Currently, a person in The Netherlands emits 9.5 tons of CO2 per year, 9.1 in Germany, 8.8 in Finland and in Poland, and 5.6 in the United Kingdom. On average, a person in the European Union emits 6.8 tons of CO2 per year or almost three times what a person in Brazil emits33.

The EU and its 28 Member States put forward a legally binding climate pledge to reduce GHG emissions by at least 40 percent below 1990 level by 2030.

To meet this target, the EU has adopted a large package of measures in 2018 aimed at accelerating the reduction of GHG emissions, including national coal phase-out plans, increasing renewable energy and energy efficiency, and legally binding annual emission limits for each Member State in the transportation, buildings, agriculture and waste management sectors34.

These combined measures and policies are expected to result in GHG emission reductions of 58 percent by 203035, exceeding the emission reduction commitment in the pledge. Thus, the European Union’s pledge was deemed sufficient.

India

India is the seventh largest economy in the world, with an average GDP growth rate of seven percent a year since 2000. It is the fourth largest GHGs and CO2 emitter in the world, accounting for about 7 percent each respectively36. India’s CO2 emissions per person have doubled since 1990, but its historical emissions were very low, and current emissions are significantly lower than most industrialized countries. Currently, a person in India emits less than 2 tons of CO2 per year, which is less than half of what a person in Sweden or a third of what a person in Italy emits37.

Its climate pledge includes three targets:

  1. To unconditionally reduce the emission intensity (of all GHGs) of its GDP by 30-35 percent from 2005 level by 2030.

India states that it has already reduced the emission intensity by 12 percent from 2005 level to 201038 and by 21 percent over the 2005-2014 period39. These reductions have been calculated using GDP at constant 2004-2005 prices (in Rupees), and do not include emissions from agriculture. Using 2011-2012 prices (in Rupees), the reduction percentage is lower40. Using a global dataset in US dollars, India has reduced the GHG emission intensity of its GDP by about 18 percent from 2005 level in 201541.Despite the differences in the GDP unit used, India has reduced the emissions intensity of its GDP. By just implementing policies already in place, India is likely to achieve a 30-35 percent reduction by 2030 and may even overachieve it42.

However, India’s GHG emissions have increased by about 76 percent between 2005 and 2017, and are expected to continue to increase due to economic growth. Its CO2 emissions have more than doubled over the period 2005-2018 –from 1.2 GtCO2 in 2005 to 2.6 GtCO2 in 201843.

India’s commitment to reduce its emissions intensity is indeed encouraging, but it will not result in a decrease in GHG emissions below current levels. Thus, India’s pledge was deemed insufficient to contribute to reducing global emissions by 50 percent in 2030.

  1. To conditionally achieve 40 percent of non-fossil fuels electric power installed capacity.

India has increased its installed electricity generation capacity by three-fold since 2005, with 57 percent of its generation still dependent on coal44. The share of non-fossil fuels electric power capacity has increased as well –from 30 percent in 2005 to 35 percent in 2018 of which 20 percent are renewables45. Thus, by continuing this increasing trend, India could achieve a 40 percent non-fossil-based power capacity earlier than 2030.

Although renewables are becoming more cost-effective than coal-fired power plants in India, the expansion of non-fossil fuels electric power may not compensate the lack of action to reduce the share of electricity generated by coal.

  1. To unconditionally create an additional cumulative carbon sink of 2.5–3 GtCO2e through additional forest and tree cover.

India forest cover totals about 24 percent of its geographical area. Since 2015, the annual increase of the carbon stock has been 71.5 MtCO2-eq (metric tons of all GHGs combined)46. The target of creating an additional cumulative carbon sink of 2.5–3 GtCO2-eq represents an average annual carbon sink of 167–200 MtCO2e over the period 2016–203047. Thus, to reach the target in the climate pledge, India would have to more than double its current rate of forest cover expansion.

The remaining 152 climate pledges

The remaining 152 climate pledges account for 32.5 percent of global GHG emissions, and 40 percent of global CO2 emissions.

Based on their emission reduction commitments, these 152 pledges are ranked as:

 
Sufficient

Besides the European Union and its 28 Member States, seven countries put forward unconditional pledges with emission reductions equal or above 40 percent. These pledges were deemed as sufficient. These are Iceland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Norway, Switzerland and Ukraine. The Republic of Moldova pledged to unconditionally reduce GHG emissions by 64-67 percent below 1990 level, and an additional 11-14 percent conditionally. Because 80 percent of the pledge is independent of international assistance, this pledge is also deemed sufficient.

 
Partially Sufficient

Twelve pledges were deemed partially sufficient. Emission reduction commitments from these countries range from 20-40 percent. These countries include some of the largest emitters in the world, and need to do much better to reduce emissions. These are Australia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, Israel, Japan, Montenegro, New Zealand, Republic of Korea and San Marino.

Japan and Brazil are the sixth and seventh largest GHGs emitters48. Their share of global GHG emissions is 3 and 2.3 percent respectively.

Japan committed to reduce “GHG emissions by 26 percent below 2013 levels by 2030”, which may be met. Among other measures, Japan adopted a 22–24 percent renewable electricity target by 2030. Currently, renewables account for 17 percent of Japan’s electricity, with a rapid growth of 50 percent since 201049. However, Japan is still dependent on fossil fuels for 81 percent of its electricity and 88 percent of its primary energy50. These percentages need to be significantly reduced.

Brazil committed to reduce “GHG emissions by 43 percent below 2005 levels by 2030”. This climate pledge, however, was put forward by the previous administration. The current one, which took office last January, reversed key environmental and climate change-related policies and measures. This political reversal jeopardizes Brazil’s chances of meeting its climate pledge. Furthermore, deforestation in Amazonia as well as destruction of other ecosystems has accelerated the reduction of carbon sinks, impacting regional climate.

The Republic of Korea pledged to reduce “GHG emissions by 37 percent below business as usual in 2030”. By using their business as usual projection for 2030 and their latest reported level of GHG emissions, the Korean pledge equals a 22 percent GHGs reduction below 2014 level in 2030.

 
Partially Insufficient

Of the remaining 133 pledges, 8 were ranked as partially insufficient. The pledges included in this category are:

1. Pledges below 20 percent emission reductions. Commitments from these countries show limited ambition to address climate change. These are Albania, Jamaica and Serbia. Also included in this category is Trinidad and Tobago, a high-income country.

2. Pledges with conditional commitments where the country is implementing more than 50 percent of the pledge from their own resources. These pledges show some effort from the country to reduce emissions. The four countries under this category are Cook Islands, Kazakhstan, Micronesia and Solomon Islands.

 
Insufficient

The rest of the climate pledges, totaling 125, were ranked as insufficient. The pledges in this category include:

  1. Pledges with no emission reduction target. These 36 pledges cannot be quantified or measured. These include 30 pledges from Armenia, Belize, Bhutan, Bolivia, Cabo Verde, Cuba, Egypt, El Salvador, Eswatini, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Malawi, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nauru, Nepal, Nicaragua, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Rwanda, Samoa, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Suriname, Syrian Arabic Republic, Timor-Leste, Tonga and Turkmenistan.

In addition, this category includes six high-income countries that lack emission reduction targets in their pledges. These are: Antigua and Barbuda, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates.

Qatar, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have the highest CO2 emissions per person in the world, with 38, 23.9, 22.4 and 21.8 tons of CO2 per person respectively. On average, that is about 50 percent higher than the United States and three times more than in Germany51.

  1. Pledges with commitments that rely more than 50 percent on international funding for their implementation. Many of these countries have limited capacity to reduce their emissions and are reliant on financial and technical assistance, which may not materialize. These pledges, especially for the upper middle income countries, show minimal effort from the country to reduce emissions. Among this category, 27 pledges made commitments ranging from 50-90% conditional. These are: Algeria, Bangladesh, Benin, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Chad, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Ecuador, Eritrea, Fiji, Ghana, Guatemala, Haiti, Jordan, Kiribati, Lesotho, Maldives, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Niue, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Togo and Viet Nam. Of these pledges, 33 percent are from upper middle-income countries, 30 percent from lower middle-income countries and 37 percent from low income countries.

In addition, 38 pledges are 100 percent conditional to international support for their full implementation. These are: Afghanistan,  Barbados, Botswana, Cambodia, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Comoros, Congo (Republic of), Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Grenada, Guinea, Honduras, Kenya, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Liberia, Madagascar, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Mongolia, Namibia, Oman, Pakistan, Palau, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Sao Tome and Principe, Seychelles, State of Palestine, Tuvalu, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Of these pledges, 30 percent are from upper middle-income countries, 32 percent from lower middle-income countries and 26 percent from low income countries.

Five high-income countries also made totally conditional pledges: Bahamas, Barbados, Oman, Saint Kitts and Nevis and Seychelles.

  1. Pledges with intensity targets. As with China and India, climate pledges based on intensity targets mostly equal an increase in emissions in 2030 above the current level. These six pledges using intensity targets are: Malaysia, Uzbekistan, Tunisia, and three high income countries –Chile, Singapore and Uruguay.

5. Pledges using business as usual (BAU) targets, as well as partially conditional using more than 50 percent of their own resources. These pledges are based on emission reductions below a projected level of future emissions in 2030 if no actions or policies are implemented. Thus, these commitments mostly equal an increase in emission in 2030 above the latest level of emissions reported by each country.

There are 13 pledges under this group.

For example, Indonesia, the eighth largest global emitter, pledged to unconditionally “reduce GHG emissions by 29 percent below business as usual” by 2030, and an additional 12 percent conditionally. By using their business as usual projection for 2030 and their latest reported level of GHG emissions, the Indonesian pledge equals a 40 percent GHG increase above 2016 level in 203052.

The 12 additional countries using the same BAU target, which increases emissions by 2030, are: Andorra, Argentina, Colombia, Djibouti, Georgia, Mexico, North Macedonia, Paraguay, Peru, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Thailand.

Countries with no pledges

Thirteen countries have not yet submitted their climate pledges. These are Angola, Brunei Darussalam, Iran, Iraq, Kyrgyz Republic, Libya, Lebanon, Philippines, Russia Federation, Senegal, South Sudan, Turkey and Yemen.

All of these countries have signed the Paris Agreement. Brunei Darussalam, Philippines and Senegal have also ratified it and are revising their initial commitments before they become their climate pledges. The rest of the countries are still in the ratification process of the Paris Agreement.

Emissions from these countries combined account for about 9 percent of global GHG emissions. Of particular importance among these countries is the Russian Federation –the fifth largest global GHG emitter, contributing 4.6 percent of global GHG emissions53.

Sources and references

14. UNEP, The Emission Gap Report 2018, Global Carbon Project

15. UNEP, The Emission Gap Report 2018, Global Carbon Project 2018
16. Fossil CO2 and GHG emissions of all world countries – 2019 Report, Publications Office of the European Union; Global Carbon Atlas, CO2 emissions per person
17. International Energy Agency; Emission Database for Global Atmospheric Research
18. Fossil CO2 and GHG emissions of all world countries, 2019 Report, Publications Office of the European Union
19. BP Statistical Review of World Energy June 2019
20. Fossil CO2 emissions of all world countries, 2019 Report
21. UNEP, The Emission Gap Report 2018, Global Carbon Project
22. Fossil CO2 and GHG emissions of all world countries – 2019 Report, Publications Office of the European Union; Global Carbon Atlas, CO2 emissions per person
23. Due to a provision in the Paris Agreement, the earliest date for the U.S. to completely withdraw from the agreement is November 4, 2020. Until then, the U.S. climate pledge stands
24. Clean Edge, Inc.: 2017 U.S. Clean Tech Leadership Index: State Index
25. https://www.sierraclub.org/ready-for-100/commitments
26. America’s Pledge is an initiative led by former mayor Michael Bloomberg and former governor Jerry Brown, uniting commitments made by 17 states, more than 450 cities, businesses and academic institutions: www.americaspledgeonclimate.com
27. America’s Pledge Initiative on Climate (2018) “Fulfilling America’s Pledge: How States, Cities, and Business Are Leading the United States to a Low-Carbon Future.”
28. https://content.sierraclub.org/coal/coal-plant-map
29. Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks (2019)
30. UNEP, The Emission Gap Report 2018, Global Carbon Project
31. UNEP, The Emission Gap Report 2018, Emission Database for Global Atmospheric Research, based on the EU commitments under the Kyoto Protocol and its Cancun pledge
32. Fossil CO2 and GHG emissions of all world countries – 2019 Report, Publications Office of the European Union
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34. UNEP, The Emission Gap Report 2018
35. Climate Action Tracker
36. UNEP, The Emission Gap Report 2018, Global Carbon Project
37. Fossil CO2 and GHG emissions of all world countries – 2019 Report, Publications Office of the European Union; Global Carbon Atlas, CO2 emissions per person
38. India’s First Biennial Update Report to the UNFCCC (2015)
39. India’s Second Biennial Update Report to the UNFCCC (2018)
40. Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, Government of India (Press Note on National Account Statistics, Nov. 2018)
41. Fossil CO2 and GHG emissions of all world countries, 2019 Report, Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research
42. UNEP, The Emission Gap Report 2018
43. Fossil CO2 and GHG emissions of all world countries, 2019 Report, Emission Database for Global Atmospheric Research
44. India’s Second Biennial Update Report to the UNFCCC (2018)
45. India’s Second Biennial Update Report to the UNFCCC (2018)
46. India’s Second Biennial Update Report to the UNFCCC (2018)
47. Climate Action Tracker
48. UNEP, The Emission Gap Report 2018
49. Electricity generation by fuel – Japan: IEA Electricity Information 2018
50.Electricity generation by fuel – Japan: IEA Electricity Information 2018, BP Statistical Review of World Energy June 2019
51. Fossil CO2 and GHG emissions of all world countries – 2019 Report, Publications Office of the European Union; Global Carbon Atlas, CO2 emissions per person
52. Indonesia’s NDC (2016) and Biennial Update Report (2018)
53. UNEP, The Emission Gap Report 2018

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