UN Sees Promise in Country Climate Plans, Even as Some Go Up in Smoke

The United Nations today released its tally of all but 10 of the climate plans that countries have released to-date. If implemented, they'll slash greenhouse gas emissions by 4 billion tonnes annually, but the announcement came under a cloud as Indonesia's burning forests have already spewed 1 billion tonnes this year. That certainly wasn't part of their plan, and it highlights the difference between ambition and achievement.

By Steve Zwick
This story first appeared on Ecosystem Marketplace. Click here to view the original.

On Monday, Indonesian president Joko Widodo cut short his first official visit to the United States to deal with his country's burning peat forests, which pumped more greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere in the last month than the entire country of Japan did in the last year. Guido van der Werf of the Global Fire Emissions Database estimates that Indonesia's 100,000 fires have pumped 1 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere this year - even as the country's climate action plan puts deforestation in the "yesterday's news" category.

On Wednesday, Greenpeace announced that a massive fire has been raging in the Brazilian Amazon for two months and already devoured almost half of the million-acre Arariboia Indigenous Reserve. If that report is true, then one fire alone has sent another 30 million metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere - even as Brazil's climate action plan neutralizes efforts to attract international forest funding from carbon markets.

Today, the United Nations released its tally of all national climate action plans submitted before October 1, and UN Climate Boss Christiana Figueres summarized the findings in three numbers:

"If fully implemented, these INDCs would bring us to a per-capita reduction of 8% by 2025 and 9% by 2030," she said, emphasizing the if. "As a whole, if implemented, they represent 4 gigatonnes of emission-reductions globally."

INDCs are UN lingo for "Intended Nationally-Determined Contributions", which are the action plans that countries have been submitting all year, and most estimates say they're good enough to prevent global temperatures from rising more than 2.7°C over the next century. That's an improvement over the 4-5°C projected under a business-as-usual scenario, but still well below the 2°C threshold beyond which all bets are off.

"It is a step," said Figueres. "It is a remarkable step, but it is not enough."

If INDCs have you baffled, be sure to check out our coverage from last week's talks in Bonn:

Paris And The Amazing Technicolor Charm-Quilt: Why This Year's Climate Talks Really Are Different offers a simple introduction to the new negotiating dynamic that began in Warsaw at the end of 2013 and will be central to this year's talks in Paris.

Forests Look Set To Play Big Role In Paris Patchwork Climate Accord is our Friday wrap and includes interviews with observers from The Nature Conservancy, the World Resources Institute, and our own parent organization, Forest Trends.