The Truth Behind the Climate Pledges

Key Conclusions


An environmental and economic disaster from human-induced climate change is on the horizon.

To achieve the Paris Agreement’s most ambitious goal of keeping global warming below 1.5°C (2.7°F) above pre-industrial levels requires reducing global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 50 percent by 2030.

An analysis of current commitments to reduce emissions between 2020 and 2030 shows that almost 75 percent of the climate pledges are partially or totally insufficient to contribute to reducing GHG emissions by 50 percent by 2030, and some of these pledges are unlikely to be achieved.

Of the 184 climate pledges, 36 were deemed sufficient (20 percent), 12 partially sufficient (6 percent), 8 partially insufficient (4 percent) and 128 insufficient (70 percent).

Because the climate pledges are voluntary, technicalities, loopholes and conditions continue to postpone decisive global action to reduce emissions and address climate change.

All countries need to reduce emissions to meet the Paris Agreement targets, although not all countries have equal responsibility because of the principle of differentiated responsibility, historical emissions, current per person emissions and the need to develop.

Emissions from the top four emitters combined account for 56 percent of global GHG emissions –China (26.8 percent), the United States (13.1 percent), the European Union and its 28 Member States (9 percent) and India (7 percent). The analysis of their pledges show that:

  • China, the largest emitter, is expected to meet its pledge of “reducing its carbon intensity by 60-65 percent from 2005 levels by 2030” (or the amount of CO2 emissions per unit of GDP).

However, China’s CO2 emissions increased by 80 percent between 2005 and 2018 and are expected to continue to increase for the next decade given its projected rate of economic growth.

  • In 2015, the United States committed to reducing “GHG emissions by 26-28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025”. However, the current administration announced the United States withdrawal from the Paris Agreement and has cut federal regulations meant to curb emissions. State and local efforts are being implemented to try and meet the United States pledge. These efforts are mainly focused on electricity generation and automobile emissions.

  • The European Union and its 28 Member States committed to reduce GHG emissions “at least 40 percent from 1990 level” by 2030. The EU and its Member States are on track to cut GHG emissions by 58 percent by 2030.

  • India’s emissions are growing rapidly. Its pledge to reduce “the emissions intensity (of all GHGs) of its GDP by 30-35 percent from 2005 level by 2030” is expected be met.

However, India’s GHG emissions increased by about 76 percent between 2005 and 2017 and, like China, are expected to continue to increase until 2030 due to economic growth.

The Russian Federation, the fifth largest GHG emitter, has not even submitted its plan to cut emissions yet.

From the remaining 152 pledges, 126 are partially or totally dependent on international finance, technology and capacity building for their implementation. A portion of these commitments may not be implemented because little international support has been materialized.

Thus, at least 130 nations, including 4 of the top 5 world’s largest emitters, are falling far short of contributing to meeting the 50 percent global emission reductions required by 2030 to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

The impact of the shortfall are economic losses from weather events influenced by human-induced climate change escalating to at least $2 billion per day by 2030. In addition to the cost, weather events and patterns will continue to change, and will adversely affect human health, livelihoods, food, water, biodiversity and economic growth.

There are two ways in which emissions can be rapidly and drastically reduced, particularly carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions which account for about 70 percent of global GHG emissions due to fossil fuels:

  • Switching electricity generation to renewables sources and away from coal.This means a five-fold increase in wind and solar energy as well as phasing out and closing 2,400 coal-fired power stations globally within the next decade, to reduce coal use by 70 percent by 2030. This is viable and cost-effective. Yet, there are 250 additional coal units under construction.
  • Improving and increasing energy efficiency can reduce CO2 emissions by 40 percent by 2040 –something we can all contribute to. Households worldwide could also save more than $500 billion dollars per year in energy bills (electricity, natural gas for heating and cooking and fuel for transportation).

Efforts must also be made to reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide from land-use change, primarily deforestation in the tropics, and emissions from other GHGs, primarily methane and nitrous oxide.

Leadership is required to limit climate change and meet the Paris Agreement targets: 

Leadership from governments to make meaningful progress towards the Paris Agreement targets. Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C (3.6oF) or 1.5°C (2.7oF) above pre-industrial levels will require Governments to double or triple their current pledges within the next decade by transitioning to a low-carbon economy, reducing deforestation, and reducing emissions of other GHGs. Policy can accelerate the implementation of climate solutions.

Leadership from the private sector to do business sustainably and to drive innovation, competitiveness, risk management and growth. Investments from the private sector have the potential to drive policy changes.

Leadership from individuals to continue demanding increased climate action as well as to make smarter choices in using energy more efficiently every day. Young people are leading a global mobilization demanding political action to address climate change. These young climate advocates can lead and mobilize individuals to take climate action as well.

Download the report here.

Meet the authors.

Impact of individual climate action by country

Map of individual climate action

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