Boris Johnson faces a new test of his green commitments as the UK prepares to present its national plan on future carbon emissions, ahead of the crucial UN climate negotiations.
Pressure is mounting on the Prime Minister to propose an ambitious national goal, known as a Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), of substantially reducing emissions by 2030, because the UK will host the COP26 summit postponed next year.
The Secretary General of the UN, António Guterres, spoke on Thursday on the need for developed countries to redouble their ambitions. In a speech to the European Council on Foreign Relations, he said: “By early 2021, countries that account for more than 65% of global carbon dioxide emissions and more than 70% of the world economy will have made ambitious commitments to the carbon neutrality.
What is the UK NDC?
What is the UK NDC and why is it important?
All the countries that signed the Paris agreement set a target, known as a nationally determined contribution (NDC) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by around 2030. But the initial round in 2015 was insufficient to meet the target of Paris, to keep global warming well. below 2C above pre-industrial levels, aiming for a limit of 1.5C
The agreement contains a “ratchet” mechanism whereby each country must tighten its target every five years, so new NDCs must be submitted by December 31, 2020.
Who has created an updated NDC so far?
Many developing countries but few of the world’s major economies. China has pledged to peak its emissions by 2030, but a new NDC is unlikely to be established before its 5-year plan in March. Japan has submitted an NDC that has barely improved since its 2015 engagement, so it is under pressure to do more. The United States will not present one under Donald Trump, but President-elect Joe Biden will hope to prepare one in his first months in office. The EU hopes to come up with a target of reducing emissions by 55% compared to 1990 levels by 2030, although discussions are not yet complete and there is resistance from some member states.
The coronavirus pandemic, which has delayed the next UN climate summit – Cop26 – by one year to November 2021, means that many countries will miss the deadline, although they will be encouraged to come forward early next year. , so that the NDCs can be analyzed by the UN. before Cop26.
What will be the goal of UK NDC?
NDCs contain many components, but the focus is a 2030 short-term target on emissions cuts, generally compared to a 1990 baseline. For the UK, the potential range is likely to be between 65%. and 75%.
The lower end of 65% was deemed feasible in a report last year by the UK’s statutory advisers, the Committee on Climate Change. But that advice is likely to be revised in a new report this December, as the head of the CCC told The Guardian that the cost of reducing emissions had fallen further.
If the CCC’s research supports a stricter target, it will be difficult for the government to justify anything below 70%. Less would be seen as lacking in ambition, which would encourage other countries to present weak NDCs and could lead to discord at Cop26.
“But we are still behind in the race against time. All countries, cities, financial institutions and companies must adopt plans for the transition to net zero emissions by 2050. We need to see these plans well before Cop26, in particular the NDCs required under the Paris agreement. “
Nicholas Stern, author of the Historical Review of the Economics of Climate Change and Chairman of the Grantham Research Institute at the London School of Economics, told The Guardian that the UK should aim for a 70% reduction in emissions by 2030, in compared to 1990. levels.
Environmental activists wrote to Johnson on Friday calling for a reduction in carbon emissions of at least 75% to be adopted as UK policy, arguing that this was possible in light of the government’s 10-point plan for a green economy.
The letter cited an analysis that showed that a target of 72% cuts was feasible now, with tougher cuts possible given political will, as the global response to the coronavirus pandemic showed how quickly action can be taken in an emergency. “Given the need for the UK to take our fair share of global emission reductions based on historical responsibility, we must move faster and faster and commit to seizing every opportunity to exceed this target, as well as leading global efforts to close the gap at 1.5C, ”the signatories wrote.
The Treasury is reported to have been reluctant to put more money into key aspects of the prime minister’s 10-point plan to move towards a low-carbon economy. The key question is whether those who want a slower speed of climate action will win the prime minister.
The 10-point plan would still leave the UK lagging behind Spain and the EU in the global green recovery, and tied with France for third place in a global ranking prepared by Vivid Economics for The Guardian, which also found the world following. flowing. money on fossil fuels.
If the UK were still an EU member state, it would be part of the bloc’s sharing agreement on carbon cuts. The EU is likely to formalize an emissions cut target of 55% overall by 2030, and that would imply emissions cuts for the UK of more than 65%, which is what some within the government are basing their calculations on. The committee on climate change also found that the UK could hit a 65% target in a report last year, though it is expected to revise its figures.
But some other countries would consider that a target of less than 70% does not set a good example.
Johnson must intervene quickly to resolve conflicting views on how ambitious the UK should be on its 2030 target, ahead of a meeting that convened world leaders in December, experts told The Guardian. An unambitious target would be considered a poor indicator of the UK presidency of the upcoming UN climate talks.
Stern said the prime minister had shown commitment to a low-carbon economy in his 10-point plan. “[He] now he understands that this is a growth story, not a burden, ”Stern said. “But it needs strong investment and innovation.”
Under the Paris climate agreement, all countries must present strengthened commitments on emission reductions by the end of this year, in line with the goal of limiting temperature increases to well below 2 ° C, with the aspiration of staying within 1.5 ° C of pre-industry. levels. Current commitments, made in 2015, would lead to 3 ° C of heating, which scientists say would have catastrophic consequences.
In recent weeks, China and Japan have submitted commitments to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. That will provide the long-term targets required by Paris, but still leaves doubt on short-term commitments on specific emission reductions in the next decade.
Johnson and his ministers and officials have repeatedly urged other countries to submit their NDCs.
The Guardian understands that the UK intends to publish its NDC before a crucial meeting of world leaders next month, to be hosted by Johnson and Guterres. The climate ambition summit will take place on December 12, the fifth anniversary of the forging of the Paris agreement.
The virtual meeting of world leaders is seen as a critical milestone on the road to Cop26, the UN climate summit that was scheduled to start last week but, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, will be held next November in Glasgow.
Countries are supposed to submit their NDCs by the end of this year, so the UN and scientific experts will have time to examine them in detail before Cop26.
However, the UK is likely to get very close to its own December 12 summit deadline. This is because the committee on climate change, the government’s statutory advisers, will present their report on a sixth carbon budget, for the period 2033-2037, on December 9. Ministers are expected to wait until then before announcing the UK NDC.
Chris Stark, the executive director of the committee, told The Guardian: “For us to be a good chair of these discussions, a good chair, I think we need to have a strong set of national plans to cut emissions here in the UK. “
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