WASHINGTON. This week’s Climate Change Summit has been the subject of much talk by various nations about their plans to reduce carbon emissions. But in the strange world of national climate promises, the numbers are often not as high as they seem.
Sometimes a 55% reduction is roughly equal to 50% to 52%. Sometimes it is even less. Sometimes it’s more.
As part of the Paris Climate Agreement process, each nation chooses its national targets: how much greenhouse gas emissions should be reduced by 2030, and possibly the starting year for those reductions. This makes it difficult to compare countries’ emission reduction promises to see who is promising more.
US AND EU GOALS
And the United States and the European Union are proposing similar cuts to halve their emissions by 2030. But depending on the year you start, each can sound much deeper than the other.
The EU target, which was fully approved by the EU parliament, is 55% lower than in 1990. The new US target announced by President Biden on Thursday is 50% to 52% lower than in 2005.
If you turn the European goal into the preferred American starting point for 2005, the two are the same. The EU target is 51% lower than in 2005, which is not equal to the US target, said Kate Larsen, a former Obama White House aide and director of the private research group Rhodium Group.
But if you compare them, using Europe’s preferred 1990 as a starting point, the US 50% minimum reduction is only 41%, which is far from the EU 55% target, according to Larsen.
If you compare the numbers with 2019, the last pre-epidemic year, the US goal seems more ambitious than the European one. The minimum that the US will reduce is about 40% from today, and the EU – only 35%, says climate scientist Niklas Hohne, who is helping to track climate action, which controls the promise of global emissions.
WHY DIFFERENT OPTIONS?
The idea underlying the different lines goes back to a bulwark that shattered the climate negotiations in 2009.
Developed countries that were already emitting a lot of carbon emissions wanted poorer countries that relied on fossil fuels for economic development to give up more polluting fuels, said John von Podesta, the climate tsar of President Barack Obama. Thus, the Paris 2015 A settlement was reached that allowed nations to voluntarily choose their goals, tailored to each country.
These nationally developed goals included countries that chose their starting years. Thus, countries tend to choose years when they have reached the peak or almost reached the peak of carbon emissions.
For example, Europe, which took early steps after the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, decided to abide by the 1990 agreement. The starting point, as it was based on early cuts. So Europe gets credit for acting early.
Many of the goals of developed nations are almost identical, says Nigel Porvis, who has been negotiating with the US State Department for the administrations of George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
“50% of them all do a lot,” Porvis said. “The starting points become less strong.”
Some nations shoot higher.
Nate Hultman, a professor of global stability at the University of Maryland, pointed to Denmark, which he said did the math to see how much emissions reductions were feasible for the future, and found that it was 65% lower than in 1990. Denmark then set a tougher target of 70%, relying on the unforeseen changes in technology that often occur.
Hoh told Climate Action Tracker that despite the White House’s assertions, the US goal is not enough to warm to pre-industrial times by no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, which is a tougher goal of the Paris Agreement.
The whole world should reduce its emissions by half compared to 2019, said Hohn. But Biden’s new target in the US is only about 40% of the 2019 level.
“If you take that comparison, it will not work,” Hohn told the Associated Press on Thursday.
NOT ONLY CARBON DIOXIDE
Like other nations, the U.S. target includes methane ֆ hydrofluorocarbons, which capture more heat but do not emit as much carbon dioxide. Inclusion in the goals allows the United States to reap the benefits of low-hanging fruit to better achieve its goal, Larsen said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has stressed how quickly cutting off methane pollution could lead the world to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
“Reducing methane և HFCs is faster than cutting carbon dioxide, so cutting them” can buy us a lot of time, “Larsen said.
HOW TO ACHIEVE THE US GOAL?
Most of the U.S. emissions cuts, about 70 percent, are likely to come from the electricity sector, says Hultman. Switching to greener electricity will reduce overall emissions faster as people maintain their cars for almost a decade.