- The UN Newsroom claims in its headline: “Keeps Door Open to 2 Degree C Temperature Limit.”
It is impossible to read the report and take away this message. The report states that because of the INDCs, 2°C “could be achieved only at substantially higher annual emission reduction rates and cost compared with the least-cost scenarios that start today or in 2020.” If the INDCs did nothing, the door would still be open—there would still be a mathematical possibility of achieving 2°C. So the INDCs don’t keep that door open and in fact the INDCs make it enormously harder to get through that door in the future. (See our UN Scientists page.)
The reason for such an extreme and misleading spin must be to help coax countries to cooperate—a laudable motive. But it is also dangerous to mislead the world into a false sense of security and success.
- The Newsroom claims that INDCs bring global per capita emissions down by 9% by 2030. This is not what the report says. The 9% value is a reduction from 1990 levels, and 4% of that happened before 2010. It is likely another 2% or 3% is projected to happen before the INDCs start in 2020.
- The Newsroom quotes UN climate chief Christiana Figueres saying INDCs have the potential to hold the temperature increase to 2.7°C. But the Newsroom fails to note that the UN scientists say such temperature predictions “strongly depend on assumptions on socioeconomic drivers, technology development and action undertaken by Parties [after 2030]. The UN scientists refuse to make such assumptions, which would amount to pure guesswork.
Today (2015/10/30) the UN released its report on the aggregate effect of INDCs. The findings are inconclusive, and not very optimistic, so the Newsroom did its best to spin them. For example, it reported:
One of the key findings is that the INDCs will bring global average emissions per capita down by as much as 8% in 2025 and 9% in by 2030.
But the report says that those are changes starting from a base year of 1990, so the 8% and 9% are mainly not due to INDCs, but happened earlier. In fact, the improvement from 1990 until 2010 was 4% and from 2010 to 2030 was 5%. So it appears that there was an extra 1% drop during a 20-year period, half of which was covered by INDCs. So the INDC contribution might have been 0.5% not 9%.
The UN Newsroom also claims that the report “indicates that together they [the 140 climate plans] can dramatically slow global emissions into the atmosphere.” In fact the report finds that global emissions will increase during both the first and second half of the INDC period (2020 – 2030).
But the main Newsroom point is merely a distortion and not a fabrication:
Global Response to Climate Change Keeps Door Open to 2 Degree C Temperature Limit
An unprecedented world-wide effort is underway to combat climate change, building confidence that nations can cost effectively meet their stated objective of keeping a global temperature rise to under 2 degrees C.
In fact, the weakness of the INDCs makes it far more difficult to reach the 2 degree C objective, but the INDCs don’t quite make it impossible so, it must be admitted that the door is still open. But there is no doubt that cost effectiveness is decreased substantially.
The increased difficulty is explained at paragraph 41 of the Newsroom report: The rate of emissions decrease after 2030 will need to be about 3.3% instead of the 1.6% that would be needed if we started the decline in 2010 or 2020. Compare this to the fact that under the INDCs emissions will continue to rise.
In fact the report does not conclude that the INDCs actually change emissions at all from what they would have been. Rather it concludes that emissions will be lower than an average of 22 emission trajectories calculated before 2010. It makes no claim that these accurately measure (or even roughly approximate) what would have happened without the INDCs. And judging by the apparent lack of effect of the INDCs on per-capita emissions, the 22 trajectories probably overestimate the impact of the INDCs rather dramatically.