- A new analysis finds that Brazil, Indonesia and India have submitted plans that fall well short of the actions needed.
- The climate plan submitted to the UN by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, on the other hand, is held up as a model for taking action on land use changes, such as deforestation for agriculture, to achieve emissions reductions.
- Countries’ climate plans will be revised after the December 2015 climate negotiations in Paris, and experts hope to see richer nations follow the examples of the DRC.
More than 120 countries have submitted climate plans to the UN ahead of upcoming negotiations in Paris and, as you might expect, some are more ambitious than others. That’s especially true of tropical forest countries.
A new report by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) analyzed the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) — nation-specific plans for reducing emissions of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming — and found that Brazil, Indonesia and India have submitted plans that fall well short of the actions needed.
The INDC submitted by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, on the other hand, is held up by the UCS report as a model for taking action on land use changes, such as deforestation for agriculture, to achieve emissions reductions in line with the amount the country can and should cut based on its share of the culpability for creating the climate crisis in the first place.
“The land use sector, which accounts for about one-fourth of total global warming emissions, can’t be ignored if we want to solve the problem of climate change,” Doug Boucher, director of the Tropical Forest and Climate Initiative at UCS and the author of the report, said in a statement.
“The climate mitigation potential of agriculture and forests is great,” Boucher added, “and needs to be fully realized to prevent the worst consequences of climate change that will occur if global temperatures rise by more than 2 degrees Celsius.”
Brazil does not plan to eliminate all deforestation
Brazil, home to the world’s largest expanse of tropical rainforest, has reduced its emissions greatly over the past decade, thanks in large part to the fact that the country drastically reduced deforestation. Between 2004 and 2014, deforestation dropped by as much as 70 percent in Brazil, keeping as much CO2 out of the atmosphere as all the cars in the US emit in three years.
Brazil’s INDC commits the country to building on that success by reducing overall carbon emissions 37 percent by 2025, a target that has been praised for representing the first time a country committed to an absolute reduction in emissions.
Rachel Biderman, director of World Resources Institute Brazil, said in a statement that “This is an important shift because it offers greater certainty that emissions can be cut even as Brazil’s economy expands.”
But that ambition does not appear to have been brought to bear emissions from its agriculture, forestry and other land use (AFOLU) sector emissions, as Brazil has only pledged to eliminate illegal deforestation in the Amazon instead of eliminating all deforestation.
Other commitments outlined in the INDC formally establish goals Brazil announced in a joint agreement with the US in June: The country plans to increase renewable energy to 20 percent of total electricity use and to reforest 12 million hectares (almost 30 million acres).
Deforestation has historically been responsible for a significant portion of Brazil’s emissions. The Amazon Basin covers 1.4 billion acres and represents half of the world’s remaining tropical rainforests, making it one of the biggest and most important carbon sinks in the world. But despite its recent successes in decreasing deforestation, data suggests that the rate at which Brazilian Amazon is being destroyed has begun to rise once again.
“Brazil’s promises are inadequate if they claim they can address deforestation simply by going after illegal activities in the Amazon,” the UCS’s Boucher said. “The problem is bigger than illegality and bigger than the Amazon. Brazil also needs to reduce deforestation in other parts of the country.”
Indonesia’s murky targets draw some praise, but more criticism
Boucher and his team of researchers at UCS found that Indonesia’s INDC also fails to adequately address emissions from land use.
Indonesia is one of the top ten emitters of carbon pollution in the world, with approximately 63 percent of its global warming emissions coming from AFOLU sectors, mostly due to deforestation and destruction of peatlands (which are also a particularly effective carbon sink) for industrial agricultural operations such as palm plantations.
Yet Indonesia’s INDC — which proposes a 29 percent emissions reduction by 2030 compared to business as usual, a target that goes up to 41 percent if the country receives enough international financing via programs such as the UN’s REDD+ — does not present a plan to end deforestation and clearance of peat bogs.
“Indonesia currently has a moratorium on clearing primary forests and also banned peatland clearing in 2010,” Boucher points out. “But the plan doesn’t say whether these commitments will continue let alone what sort of new initiatives will be implemented to achieve their overall emissions reduction goal.”
Another major criticism of Indonesia’s climate plan is that its emissions reduction targets are not based on the most stringent baseline year, 1990, or even 2005, as Brazil and the US use in their INDCs. Instead, Indonesia plans to reduce emissions relative to a “business as usual” scenario.
Reactions to Indonesia’s INDC have been somewhat mixed, however. According to Carbon Brief, for instance, Indonesia’s emissions would not increase over the next 15 years if it receives international support and is able to achieve the more ambitious 41% reduction against business as usual.
But there are many areas of uncertainty around Indonesia’s INDC, Carbon Brief found, including how much finance Indonesia needs from international donors to achieve the more aggressive target, what the country’s current emissions levels are, and how the country has calculated its business-as-usual trajectory in order to reduce emissions against that benchmark.
Dr. Nirarta Samadhi, country director for WRI Indonesia, called Indonesia’s INDC “encouraging” because it shows the government is serious about tackling climate change, Carbon Brief reported, but he also said that more transparency is needed to boost confidence in the country’s efforts to reduce emissions.
India’s emissions could grow 90% over the next 15 years
Unlike Brazil and Indonesia, India has already phased out net deforestation and is in fact maintaining a low rate of net reforestation by planting more trees than it’s cutting down.
In its INDC, India lists an overall goal of reducing global warming emissions 33-35 percent by 2030, but much like Indonesia’s INDC, India’s plan lacks the clarity needed to effectively gauge the scale of the country’s ambition, especially with regards to the AFOLU sectors, according to the UCS report.
“After review, much of the mystery surrounding land use in India’s INDC remains,” Boucher said.
The 38-page document doesn’t specify to what degree the proposed emissions reductions depend on international assistance, for instance, or even whether the targets are annual or cumulative. And while the country’s reforestation ambition is evident, the same can’t be said of its plans regarding agriculture and natural forest degradation, Boucher and team found.
India has been fiercely protective of its right to develop its economy. Its population continues to grow, and there are already 304 million Indians living without electricity and 92 million with no access to safe drinking water. That’s why the emissions reduction targets in India’s INDC are framed in terms of emissions intensity, or the amount of greenhouse gases emitted per unit of GDP.
India has pledged to cut emissions intensity to one-third of 2005 levels by 2030. Carbon Brief says that means the country’s greenhouse gas emissions would still climb by around 90 percent compared to current levels.
“India’s argument is that they have development challenges which must take priority, and currently the cheapest route to development is through high-carbon infrastructure,” Diarmuid Torney, who has written a book on China and India’s climate policies, told the Guardian. “But if India’s emissions increase at the projected rate and developed country emissions don’t decline rapidly over the short to medium term, then the maths does get us into trouble.”
The DRC sets an example richer nations could learn from
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is home to the largest area of the Congo Basin rainforest, the world’s second-largest band of tropical forest after the Amazon. The DRC also ranks as one of the least developed countries in the world in terms of income, food security, unemployment, and access to electricity and potable water, according to the UCS analysis.
But the UCS researchers also say they found that the proposals in the DRC’s INDC for land use sectors are the most clearly defined. The agriculture sector, according to the INDC, offers the most opportunity for emissions reductions, while the energy and transport sector will require the most financing.
The DRC’s climate plan includes a pledge to reduce overall carbon emissions 17 percent by 2030 compared to business as usual, but unlike Indonesia’s INDC, the DRC’s goes into specifics, detailing how much of this reduction will come from each sector of the country’s economy, as well as how much each of those individual goals depends on international financial assistance.
Despite its vast area of rainforest — 152 million hectares (more than 375 million acres) — and the fact that the DRC’s deforestation rate has been below the world average for tropical forest countries for the past few decades, as the researchers note in the report, the country’s INDC also presents an ambitious proposal for reforestation by 2025 that would cover 3 million hectares (more than 7 million acres) and sequester 3 million tons of CO2 annually.
“The DRC’s plan is clearer and includes more quantitative detail than plans submitted by far richer nations,” Boucher said. “Further, the DRC’s proposed reductions are in line with the amount of emissions they can cut and should cut, based on the extent to which their emissions have contributed to climate change.”
The UCS analysis says that the INDCs of many countries, not limited to those examined in the present report, fall short of expectations in how they treat emissions from the land sector.
“Ironically, it is among the smaller countries that one finds the best models,” Boucher writes in the report. “As INDCs are revised after the December 2015 climate negotiations in Paris, we hope to see the larger countries follow these good examples.”