COP 21: Paris Pledges

In December this year UN member states are expected to finally sign off on a universal climate change agreement in Paris at the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

But what is on the table and will it be enough avoid dangerous climate change now and for future generations?

"The Paris agreement unfortunately is not going to be a planet-saving agreement"

Long-time COP veteran and self-styled 'climate geek' Sebastian Duyk does not have high hopes for the agreement. We talked to him last December at COP20 in Lima, Peru about the cumbersome process of the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC), grassroots action happening across the world, and the so-called 'INDCs'.

Intended Nationally Determined Contributions and Bi-lateral Commitments

Rated by ambition:

INDC Submissions

Country Date of Submission Reduction Target Year Base Year Kyoto Gases Covered Climate Tracker Rating Link to Submission
Switzerland 27-02-2015 50% 2030 1990 C02,CH4,N2O,HFCs, PFCs, SF6, NF3 MEDIUM INDC of Switzerland
European Union (28 Member States) 06-03-2015 40% 2030 1990 C02,CH4,N2O,HFCs, PFCs, SF6, NF3 MEDIUM INDC of European Union
Norway 27-03-2015 40% 2030 1990 C02,CH4,N2O,HFCs, PFCs, SF6, NF3 MEDIUM INDC of Norway
Mexico 30-03-2015 25% 2030 Business as Usual Scenario C02,CH4,N2O,HFCs, PFCs, SF6, Black Carbon MEDIUM INDC of Mexico
United States of America 31-03-2015 26 - 28% 2025 2005 C02,CH4,N2O,HFCs, PFCs, SF6, NF3 MEDIUM INDC of USA
Russian Federation 31-03-2015 25 - 30% 2030 1990 C02,CH4,N2O,HFCs, PFCs, SF6, NF3 LOW INDC of Russian Federation
Gabon 01-04-2015 50% 2025 2000 C02,CH4,N2O,(to be covered at a later stage: HFCs, PFCs, SF6, NF3) MEDIUM INDC of Gabon (French only)
Liechtenstein 23-04-2015 40% 2030 1990 C02,CH4,N2O, HFCs, PFCs, SF6, NF3 MEDIUM INDC of Liechtenstein
Andorra 30-04-2015 37% 2030 Business as Usual Scenario C02,CH4,N2O, HFCs, PFCs, SF6, NF3 MEDIUM INDC of Andorra
Canada 15-05-2015 30% 2030 2005 C02,CH4,N2O, HFCs, PFCs, SF6, NF3 LOW/MEDIUM INDC of Canada

Summary of Pledges

% Global GHG Emissions

covered by current INDC pledges

Types of Submission

by mitigation

Kyoto Protocol

number of gases covered

Mitigation vs Adaptation

Pledges by inclusion of adaptation


GHG Emissions

Green House Gases are gasses such as carbon dioxide and methane, which contribute to the effects of global warming. The scientific consensus is that the increase in emissions due to human activity has already caused an average global temperature rise of about 0.7 Celsius since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. 0.7 degrees may not sound like a lot but it is already having a profound effect on the climate system with increased flooding, draughts, forest fires and frequency and intensity of Natural disasters.

Scientists are quite right in saying that no one particular hurricane or flood can be attributed to climate change, but what they will tell you is that with an increase in global temperatures we are "loading the dice" so to speak and increasing the likelihood of these events occurring.

Having consulted with scientists, Parties to the UNFCCC (that's UN speak for "countries") are in broad agreement that in order to avoid catastrophic climate change, global average temperature rises must not exceed 2oC. This will necessarily require a massive reduction in global GHG Emissions.

Kyoto Protocol

The Kyoto Protocol was an agreement signed in the eponymous town in 1997. Although notably, it was not ratified (i.e. passed into law) by certain countries such as the USA. Up until 2012 when the agreement expired, it was the only legally binding mechanism, which committed countries to reducing their GHG Emissions.

Since then countries have been trying to negotiate a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. Whether the agreement signed in Paris in December 2015 will be legally binding or not is still a point of contention, but what is clear is that the agreement will not come into force until 2020 with most national targets set for 2025-30.


In the context of the UNFCCC negotiations, "mitigation" refers to any activity taken by countries, which attempts to mitigate i.e. lessen the effects of global warming. The easiest and most cost effective way of doing this is by building and investing in renewable energy and technologies as these are "carbon neutral" (i.e. they don't produce any of those nasty GHGs).


In the same context, "adaptation" refers to actions which basically accept that climate change is already happening and is going to get worse. With that in mind, it might be an idea to better prepare ourselves. An easy example would be improving flood defences. Sea-level rise brought about by melting ice caps and glaciers will certainly be a problem for coastal areas and cities such as New York in the future. However, even now for an important group within the UNFCCC negotiations called the "Small Island Developing States" it is a matter of life and death, as island nations such as Vanuatu are literally disappearing under the waves.

Another example from our bespectacled friend, Mr. Duyk is the sharing of data and information. This is already being put into effect in certain parts of Africa, where farmers who have learned where and when to plant and harvest for generations from their forefathers are having to adjust to changing meteorological conditions.

N.B. of the two strategies, mitigation is by far the cheaper. Makes sense if you think about it: would it be easier to install a solar panel on the roof of every house or build hundreds of miles of coastal defences from concrete? The reason that countries are starting to talk more about adaptation now, is because unfortunately the window of time remaining in which mitigation strategies can still be effective is getting smaller and smaller.