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Missing: Pledges of 162 nations for UN global climate treaty

Though most missed soft deadline, nations accounting for 60 percent of world’s emissions have submitted pledges

Scores of nations have missed a soft deadline for submitting plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions ahead of the planned December signing of a global climate treaty in Paris to avoid the worst effects of global warming. But policy analysts said they remain optimistic because the nations that have responded represent 60 percent of global emissions.

Only the European Union, comprising 28 countries, as well as Switzerland, Norway, the United States, Russia, Mexico, and Gabon had formally submitted their pledges — known as “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” (INDCs) — to the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC) website by the March 31 set by the U.N.

That means 162 nations have not formally outlined actions they intend to take under a potential global agreement. The INDCs will largely determine whether the world achieves a comprehensive climate treaty in Paris and is put on the path toward a low-carbon future.

But some experts cautioned against viewing the missing pledges as an indication that progress is not being made.

“While this has been called the deadline and the U.S. and EU and others wanted it to be a firmer deadline, the actual requirement is soft — that’s why you see a lot of countries not meeting the deadline,” John Coequyt, director of the International Program for the Sierra Club, told Al Jazeera on Thursday. “Our expectation is that many countries will commit their INDCs well in advance of the (December) session.”

After the INDCs are submitted there will be an assessment phase to review the pledges and possibly adjust them ahead of the Paris Climate Summit (COP 21). Each country will contribute what it can, in the context of its national priorities, circumstances and capabilities. But the collective effort will be aimed at reducing emissions enough to limit the average global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius, which many scientists believe would avert the worst affects of climate change.

Another reason to be optimistic, based on the few pledges that have been submitted, is that those already represent about 60 percent of global emissions.

The EU has said it plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 percent by 2030, with a 1990 baseline. Russia has said it will reduce emissions by 25 percent by 2020, based on 1990 levels. The U.S. has promised to slash emissions by up to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.

The U.S. pledge also represents an acceleration from its earlier plans for emissions cuts. Its target “will roughly double the pace of carbon pollution reduction in the United States,” according to its official INDC submission.

“Some countries that haven’t indicated what their target will be have publicly stated what they intend to do — obviously the most important is China,” Coequyt said.

China announced its plan to cap its emissions by 2030 in a joint statement with the U.S. last November.

In addition to pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, INDCs will also include planned actions for climate adaptation and descriptions of what support they will need from, or would be able to provide to, other countries.

“A lot of the supply for the transition (to a low-carbon economy) will come from China,” said Joe Robertson, global strategy director of the Citizen Climate Lobby, a nonprofit organization focused on national policies to address climate change. “If China is producing technology like solar panels and turbines to facilitate the rate of emission cuts in the U.S., then China’s also doing something relevant to these negotiations by increasing its capability to cut emissions.”

Developing countries that lack the capability to produce technology to speed the transition to a clean economy will buy the low-carbon technology such as solar panels or wind turbines in what is known as a “tech transfer,” Robertson said.  Eventually, the plan is that China will use the technology it developed for others to reduce its own emissions, he added.

“If you look at the U.S., EU, and China commitments, they’re bold in some ways but not enough to set a standard for the whole world,” Robertson said. “But the rate of acceleration of what’s being done looks like it will be enough if we keep the momentum going.”

That’s the goal adopted by Pathway to Paris, an initiative by the Citizen Climate Lobby, a coalition of citizens, stakeholders, NGOs, scholars, and policy-makers working to coordinate a strong agreement in Paris.

“I’m optimistic partly because of what I do, working with citizen volunteers actively building relationships,” Robertson said. “We don’t have to argue about climate change or throw snowballs — that’s all distraction. What’s happening is that we’re getting closer to a time when ideology is no longer a part of the discussion. Instead, it will be about how fast and efficiently are we going to do this.”

With wire services

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