Accord with China helps US cut 2025 emission-reduction target

Last Updated: Sat, Nov 29, 2014 02:46 hrs

Instead of setting higher targets for cuts in greenhouse gas emission compared to its previous commitments, the US has reduced the target for 2025 by two-four per cent, under a joint declaration with China. The latter, too, has kept the language of the declaration loose.

Under the joint declaration, the US announced by 2025 it would cut emissions 26-28 per cent compared to 2005 levels. China announced its emissions would peak “around 2030”.

But in 2010, under the Copenhagen Accord and Cancun Agreements of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the US had said by 2025, it would reduce its emissions 30 per cent compared to 2005 levels. That commitment of the US is remembered more for the 17 per cent cut it had promised by 2020, compared to 1990 levels. But in its formal communication announcing the 17 per cent cut to the UNFCCC, the US had also said, “In addition, the pathway set forth in pending legislation (which require the 17 per cent cut by 2020) would entail 30 per cent emission reduction by 2025 and 42 per cent emission reduction by 2030, in line with the goal to reduce emissions 83 per cent by 2050.”

This shows the US has used the joint announcement with China to reduce its emission reduction target for 2025 by two-four per cent compared to 2005 levels, rather than make any ambitious higher commitment. These figures belie the initial hype about the two countries signing a historic’ agreement. The 2010 declaration of the US was not legally binding, which permitted the largest emitter historically to step back from its earlier commitments. The joint declaration with China, too, is in the nature of an announcement, and not a bilateral agreement.

The US declaration under the joint statement loses value further when compared to the benchmark year of 1990 year, used to gauge targets for developed countries under the Kyoto Protocol. The US prefers to use the 2005 emission levels to measure its reductions, as its emissions had peaked under a business-as-usual’ case at that time.

China’s declaration with the US on November 12 said it “intends to achieve the peaking of CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions around 2030”. This followed the release of its annual Green Book’, which calculates existing and previous greenhouse gas emissions and projects emissions for the country. The China Meteorological Administration, which produces the Green Book, in its release on November 6, had said, “By looking into the trend of China’s industrialisation, urbanisation, population growth, energy development and consumption, and employing a historic and systematic approach, it projects that emission peak of China may occur between 2025 and 2035.”

On condition of anonymity, a delegate from a developing country and member of the Like Minded Developing Countries group at Lima said while there was great political significance of the joint announcement by the two countries, emerging clarity on the numbers showed lack of ambition, especially from the US. “But now, they cannot complaint the biggest annual emitter, China, is not doing anything. It puts the pressure on other umbrella group countries (such as Japan and Australia) to do more,” he said. Mid-way, these countries had opted out of the Kyoto Protocol’s second phase.

In India, the government has already begun assessing its position in the light of the US-China declaration. A source in the government said, “We are looking at the real numbers (committed by different countries and groups) and their implications for not just India, but overall global climate action.” Earlier, India had commissioned studies to project its emissions, which would provide a trajectory for the time its emissions would peak, in a business-as-usual scenario.

The results of these studies are expected in December.

Another senior official in the government said, “US Trade Representative Michael Froman, in the bilateral talks in Delhi in November-end, explained to us the low emission reduction target had been agreed to keeping in mind the (US President) Obama administration’s domestic compulsions. He was referring to the limited elbow room the US president is likely to find from the Republican Party in enforcing any strict emission-reduction targets.”

He said in bilateral meetings, the US continued to stand by its long-term commitment of 83 per cent reduction by 2050, but the new numbers showed countries were planning to do less in the near future.

That this was true not just of the US but also of other developed countries was proven by new data from the UNFCCC, ahead of the Lima talks. The data, reviewed by Business Standard, showed the European Union (EU), which has set a the target of at least a 40 per cent cut below 1990 levels by 2030, would achieve 26 per cent reduction by 2020 without any additional plans. While developing countries have demanded higher ambition levels, the EU defends itself by claiming credit for achieving its targets ahead of time.