Countries Take First Step to Comply with Copenhagen Accord

3 February 2010

Just seven weeks after the conclusion of the UN summit on climate change in Copenhagen, at least 55 countries responded to the Copenhagen Accord's call for countries to submit their voluntary mitigation plans to the UN climate change convention.

The Copenhagen Accord, the primary outcome document of the December climate talks, has not won the support of all parties to UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), so it is officially a political document, not a legal one.

Among its provisions, the Accord called on parties to the UNFCCC to submit by 31 January their national pledges to cut or limit emissions of greenhouse gases between now and 2020. The UNFCCC reported that 55 countries met the deadline; at time of writing, however, 61countries were listed on the UNFCCC website as having submitted national pledges.

These voluntary plans represent the first step toward compliance with the Copenhagen Accord and indicate that the principles of the document are gaining momentum. In a press briefing in Bonn, Germany on 20 January, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC Yvo de Boer referred to the accord as a "living document" and expressed his hope that it would continue to grow and develop in the coming months.

Thirty-eight industrialised countries, including the EU bloc of 27, submitted quantified emissions targets. The US submission aims to reduce emissions "in the range of" 17 percent by 2020 compared with 2005 levels, with the final number depending on the corresponding legislation passed by the Senate.

Of the developing countries, 23 have submitted ‘nationally appropriate mitigation actions'. China said it would ‘endeavor' to lower its CO2 emissions per unit of GDP by 40 to 45 percent, and India's goal is to reduce the emissions intensity of its GDP, excluding agriculture, by 20 to 25 percent. Both nations set their standards based on 2005 levels.

Brazil is the only South American nation to submit a proposal so far, and only seven out of 55 African countries have made submissions.

Although more than 130 countries have not made pledges, the 55 countries that met the 31 January deadline together account for 78 percent of global emissions from energy use, according to a statement from the UNFCCC.

The original text of the Copenhagen Accord set a deadline of 31 January for submissions. However, de Boer stated at the recent press briefing that he did not expect every country to make their submissions by that date. He characterised it as more of a "soft deadline."

"If you fail to meet [the deadline], then you can still associate with the Accord afterwards," de Boer said.

The pledges are national targets only and therefore voluntary; they create no legally binding international obligation for either the developing or developed countries.

No countries have really upped the commitments they made at Copenhagen, merely pledging the minimum already offered. Any potential higher reductions were made conditional on other countries' actions. De Boer called for "greater ambition...to meet the scale of the challenge."

Behind the numbers

The national pledges are an effort to move towards the Copenhagen Accord's intended objective of limiting the rise in global average temperature to below 2 degrees Celsius. Many developing nations desire to go further and keep the increase limited to 1.5 degrees.

"At 9.7 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, the pledges total just under half the [20 gigatonne] reduction required from business as usual to stay on the low carbon pathway," said Leo Johnson, PrincewaterhouseCoopers partner for Sustainability and Climate Change. "There is still a big gap between the pledges and the two degree pathway."

"It is correct to say that the proposed accord has no meaningful targets for emission reduction from Annex 1 (industrialised countries)," wrote Sunita Narin, Director of the Centre for Science and Environment, in her blog mid-January. "Global emissions will increase or reduce at best marginally," she concluded.

ICTSD reporting; "Fifty-five countries pledge to cut greenhouse emissions," GUARDIAN, 2 February 2010.

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