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Cold light shines on Paris climate pledges

New research finds signs that many countries are making serious attempts to stick to action pledges made at the Paris climate summit – but others are still lagging way behind.

The world’s leading economies are heading in the right direction on tackling climate change, but some still have a long way to go to make their undertakings politically credible, according to a UK research centre.

With the Paris Agreement barely two months old, the world now moves from talk to action − or at least that’s the theory.

The Agreement will open for signature from 22 April. And after those two frantic and heady weeks in the French capital last December, individual countries’ commitments to cut their greenhouse gas emissions will shuffle into the coldly critical light of day.

Researchers from the London-based Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment have asked a critical question: will countries honour their commitments to keep global average temperatures from rising more than 2˚C?

Political credibility

They examine the political credibility of what the Paris conference called the “intended nationally determined contributions” (INDCs) – the word “intended” has now been dropped – and  they focus on the pledges submitted by theG20 countries responsible for about 75 per cent of global greenhouse emissions.

Their report assesses four indicators of credibility: rules and procedures; public and private players; public opinion; and the governments’ past performance in implementing international commitments and domestic policies.

“We were positively surprised that none of the G20 countries finds itself at the bottom on all indicators, and this is a good starting basis for the commitments to be implemented,” Alina Averchenkova, co-author of the study, told Climate News Network.

“Yet there are big differences between countries. Some countries still have a lot of work to do to ensure credible implementation of their pledges.”

The study found that in the European Union as a region, and in France, Germany, Italy and the UK nationally, as well as in South Korea, most credibility indicators appeared “largely supportive” for the implementation of the pledges.

Australia, Brazil, South Africa, the US, Japan, Mexico, Russia and Turkey have indicators that are at least “moderately supportive” in terms of credibility, but each displays a significant weakness in one or other indicator.

But Argentina, Canada, China, India, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia showed a need for increasing credibility across most indicators.

The study found that developing and emerging countries scored lower on private bodies, the indicator that reflects the balance of power between environmental organisations and carbon-intensive industry.

But they scored better on public bodies that support addressing climate change, which reflects efforts by many of them to establish dedicated climate agencies.

They also scored better on past policy reversal. The researchers think that may be because legislation in developing countries is still being developed.

The credibility of Australia’s INDCs was undermined by its repudiation of emissions trading, and those of the US and Japan by their past UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) performance. The US did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol, and in 2013 Japan significantly weakened its national pledge on domestic emissions reductions.

Public awareness

Developing and emerging countries scored lower on average on effective decision-making processes and public opinion. “That does not necessarily have to do with opposition to climate action, but is rather an issue of lower public awareness of climate change consequences,” Dr Averchenkova says.

The authors acknowledge that the report does not analyse every factor that can influence the successful implementation of climate pledges, but say it provides a first framework for a deeper analysis.

“Some factors, such as the role of leadership or political consensus, are very dynamic and are therefore difficult to evaluate,” Dr Averchenkova says.

“For instance, in the US, the Clean Power Plan was enabled due to the strong leadership of President Obama. We are aware of these factors, but did not include them within the scope of this assessment.”

The authors say the G20 governments can improve the credibility of their current and future commitments by strengthening their policies, legislation and transparency, and by ensuring that their decision-making processes are more inclusive.

Tools they recommend include carbon pricing mechanisms, more frequent preparation of greenhouse gas inventories, and improving public awareness about climate change. 

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