Action and ambition for a global deal in Copenhagen

This paper sets out an assessment of the latest national positions regarding emission reduction targets and actions going into the forthcoming negotiations in Copenhagen.

These targets and intentions are quantified and translated into global emissions to give an understanding of how close we are to a possible agreement consistent with keeping temperature increase below 2°C.

Recent work on the latest science and economics of 2°C shows that global emissions should be around 44Gt2 carbon dioxide equivalents in 2020 to be consistent with a 50-50 chance of keeping temperature increase below 2°C. This is in line with the earlier work that underpins the IPCC conclusions.

Existing proposals from developed and developing countries, if delivered, constitute a big step towards a path consistent with the 2°C goal. Taking countries’ highest intentions would take the world to around 46Gt in 2020 a gap of 2Gt, which may be around 80 per cent of the way from business as usual, depending on the interpretation of business as usual.

However, this analysis relies on the following key assumptions:

Countries moving to or standing by their high intentions, which may require the satisfaction of stipulated conditions concerning action from others;

  • Providing adequate finance and other support for high intentions in developing countries, such as Indonesia and Brazil; this should not count offset finance, as this risks double counting, or with offset finance but matched with more stringent targets;
  • That surplus emissions allowances from previous commitment periods do not weaken mitigation effort;
  • A system of rules for how to account for the emissions released and absorbed in the LULUCF sector (Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry) to ensure the environmental integrity of emission targets

But with the right kind of collaborative spirit it is clearly possible for countries to get to together so that the necessary strong commitments can be made.

Analysing these intentions often relies on relating targets and actions to a concept of business as usual (BAU).

BAU is a concept that is difficult to pin down because a group of polices that have been indicated or announced may or may not be included in BAU; further it can depend on what assumptions are made about structural change, for example, how rapidly services grow as a share of the economy. Where an analyst uses a higher estimate of business as usual, this can lead to a larger estimated gap. It also depends on what is included in these estimates and with significant uncertainty around current and future non-energy emissions there is scope for alternative estimates. We suggest an uncertainty range of around -1Gt to +3Gt3 around our estimate of the gap.

On the basis of the above calculations the gap would be 2Gt (range from 1Gt to 5Gt). Filling the remaining 2Gt gap would require greater ambition (especially from larger emitters in order to deliver required reductions), ideally combined with a contribution to emission reductions from international aviation and maritime sectors, which is currently excluded from existing commitments, and greater efforts on REDD.

While there is much to do, we should not downplay how close we are to delivering an effective and credible global agreement.