The full implementation of current international emissions reductions pledges will not achieve emissions reductions sufficient for a 2°C limit ‒ at best, they will achieve 2.7°C. That's according to the United Nations' synthesis report on the aggregate effect of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), released as part of the run-up to COP21, the global climate change conference in Paris at the end of this month.

The importance of INDCs in COP21

The INDCs will form part of the global legally binding climate agreement which it is hoped, will be the outcome of COP21.

Current ambition levels are stated as commitments up to 2020 under the Kyoto Protocol. The new agreement is expected to have net emissions goals for 2030 or 2050, with the overarching goal of limiting the increase in global average temperatures to 2°C. The INDCs show each party's contribution to achieving these goals.

As at 1 October 2015, 119 INDCs were submitted, representing 146 member states and the European Union, made up of 28 member states. The UN's report is based on these INDCs, but also factors in the likely ambition of the parties that did not submit INDCs from IPCC information and provides for differences in the accounting of land use, land use change and forestry emissions.

Despite representing a shortfall in current emissions pledges, the UN reports that the INDCs also demonstrate:

  • an increase in the number of countries taking climate action;
  • an increase in commitments as compared with the pre-2020 period;
  • an increase in the implementation of economy-wide policies and objectives of project, program or sector based actions, with half of the parties implementing market-based mechanisms; and
  • a common determination to strengthen national adaptation efforts in the context of the 2015 agreement, with 100 parties including an adaptation component to their INDC.

The report recognises that it is the longer term application of institutional, legislative and policy change at social, economic and technological levels, as well as support for certain developing countries to implement their INDCs, that will secure the emissions reductions required to achieve the 2°C ceiling.

More ambitious targets or flexible agreement on the way?

While the current INDCs fall short of the 2°C target, they give parties and those in the climate change sector a clear idea of the starting point for negotiations at COP21 in Paris, and the varying commitment of member states.

They also emphasise the need to make the COP21 agreement flexible enough to allow for incremental increases to INDCs over time. The current draft negotiating text for the agreement includes an option for members to review their INDCs every five years, which would enable the agreement to evolve with developments in climate change science and technology.

We'll report on developments at COP21 on whether more ambitious targets are negotiated at the Paris climate talks and how the varying levels of commitment are incorporated into the new global agreement.