Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Analyzing Commitments

If there is a theme to the climate meeting in Durban it may just be a quote taken from a member of the Climate Analytics group, "the ambition level is not sufficient". A cynic might suggest that this has actually been a fairly consistent theme since the UN process began in 1992. Despite the high hopes that the international process would be able to overcome this lack of ambition prior to the Copenhagen talks, it remains an open question whether this process can ever really produce the kind of overall impact that would reduce or forestall the worst effects expected from warming in the next century.

Climate Analytics is a non-governmental organization based in Germany that has dedicated themselves to quantifying the ability, or lack thereof, of the political process to reduce greenhouse gas emissions leading to increasing temperatures and climatic instability. Most of their work can be found on the Climate Action Tracker website.

In the absence of some legal requirement that would make countries reduce their emissions by a certain amount (more on that later) countries have been publicly committing or pledging to reduce their emissions ever since the Copenhagen talks. But there are really two problems with the international community relying on voluntary reductions to solve the overall problem of warming. The first is assessing whether or not the commitments countries are willing to make will really solve the problem, the second is trying to assess whether a country is actually living up to their stated commitments.

What makes the Climate Analytics approach unique is that they independently assess how countries are doing. On the website you can see the effectiveness of pledges countries have made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in actually reduce warming. This is where the lack of ambition comes in.

There is currently a huge gap between commitments countries are willing to make and the types of reductions needed to cap warming around 2 degrees C. The current assessment is that if all the pledges countries have made are actually met (see graphic above), the level of warming we can expect by the end of the century would range from 2.6-4.0 degrees Celsius. Of course those italics represent a fairly big caveat which is what the group is now trying to get a handle on.

Climate Analytics released a report for the country of Australia (with other country assessments to follow) trying to document whether or not they are living up to the commitments they have publicly made. Just for a bit of context Australia's commitments are a little underwhelming to begin with. The reductions in greenhouse gas emissions they have committed to leave them with an overall increase in emissions from a 1990 baseline. But what the new analysis shows is that they are actually implementing steps to meet this goal, which is more than we can likely say for all countries.

It will be interesting to see how other countries stack up as the Climate Analytics group continues to expand their assessment to other nations. At the very least, it is nice to know there are independent scientists checking on the claims countries are making. Because if anything was learned from the tragically flawed Kyoto Protocol agreement it is that not all commitments are good enough, and commitments that are not met are useless.


  1. Climate Analytics are not independent scientists. Founder Bill Hare was Greenpeace Director of Policy until at least 2008 and probably still is unofficially. He was a Lead Author for the IPCC and a co-writer of the summary for policy makers. He is based at Potsdam and set up the Climate Analytics group in 2009 with funding from the German government.

    Niklas Hohne has made a living out of global warming with his Ecofys company, and has been associated with Hare for many years, as has Schaefer, also based at Potsdam.

  2. I don't see anything in that which would violate their independence...


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