Here’s how major players would have to increase decarbonization to move from the status quo to 2 C or 1.5 C – US 60% reduction in emissions by 2025

April 23, 2016

The Paris Agreement sets a goal to limit warming to no more than 2°C with the aim to limit warming to no more than 1.5°C. However, full implementation of the current pledges, as of April 20, 2016, would result in expected warming by 2100 of 3.5°C (6.3°F). Deeper, earlier emissions cuts are needed to limit warming to no more than 2°C. The Paris Agreement provides a mechanism for the nations of the world to increase their commitments and submit stronger pledges by 2020.  This article explores what that could mean.

If countries strengthen their current nationally determined contributions (NDCs) so global emissions peak by 2020 and then decline, the emissions cuts required to limit warming to no more than 2°C become much easier, with the required rate of emissions reductions for the period 2030-2040 falling from 4.6%/year under the current NDCs to 3.2%/year. With each year that countries wait to strengthen their current pledges the rate at which emissions must decline gets steeper and steeper. If countries only fulfill their current Paris pledges by 2030, our energy infrastructure, agriculture practices, and consumption habits will need to change prohibitively fast after 2030, lowering the chances of achieving the Paris agreement goal of limiting warming to no more than 2°C. Between the impacts of climate change if we don’t act and the dramatic shifts in our economies if we delay action, stronger action now is essential for a more secure future.  Even giving nations a couple years to start reducing and get on the green line below, the result is expected warming of 1.5°C (2.7°F) by 2100, with a range of uncertainty from 0.8 to 2.1°C (1.4 to a highly destructive 3.7°F) and only a 66% chance of staying below 2 C even then.   It would be much safer to listen to what scientists Jim Hansen and Bill Hare and economist Gernot Wagner told GCCM last fall:  we are past safe levels now/already.  As Pope Francis said, we must transition off fossil fuels “without delay” (Laudato Si’ no. 165)

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Providing further context supporting the importance of acting to make a rapid shift off fossil fuels and to renewable energy now, a new paper, published in Earth Systems Dynamics and presented to the European Geosciences Union, found that “tropical regions—mostly developing countries that are already highly vulnerable to climate change—face the biggest rise in impacts between 1.5°C and 2°C,” said lead author William Hare, a senior scientist and chief executive of Climate Analytics.  Co-author Jacob Schewe, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, said: “Some researchers have argued that there is little difference in climate change impacts between 1.5°C and 2°C.” But taking into account natural variabilities and model uncertainties, “at the regional level, we clearly show that there are significant differences in impacts between 1.5°C and 2°C.”

Here’s how major players would have to increase the ambition of their pledges to move from the status quo to 2 degrees or 1.5 degrees, according to a breakdown by ClimateInteractive,1.5 C path by 2025


Europe, which has pledged to get 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, would have to go to 47 percent for 2 degrees, and 62 below for 1.5 degrees. The United States, which has pledged to get at least 26 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 for 2 degrees, would have to reach 60 percent to achieve 1.5 degrees. These numbers are similar to other developed countries.

China, instead of peaking emissions by 2030 at 60 percent of the carbon intensity of 2005, would have to peak by 2025 to meet either goal. Other developing countries would face nearly as short timelines for reaching peak emissions.  Dr. John Sterman of MIT Sloan said, “Paris is a major step. But the current pledges defer the emissions reductions needed to keep warming below 2°C until after 2030. By then, substantial additional fossil fuel infrastructure would be built, only to become stranded assets after 2030 at great cost to the companies that built them and the citizens of the nations who financed them.”  Dr. John Sterman of MIT Sloan said: “The
developed nations must cut their emissions faster than their current NDCs specify. But we cannot limit warming to 2°C unless the developing nations also reduce their emissions. The developed nations should cover the cost of
emissions reductions in the developing world so these nations can leapfrog the polluting fossil fuel infrastructure through clean, renewable energy and efficient end use, just as Africa jumped straight to mobile telephony, leapfrogging land lines.” (See ClimateInteractive for a better copy)

Pathways by nation April 2016


But rather than moving toward either of these two targets – 2 degrees or 1.5 – the world right now is falling well short, as measured by the sum of all the individual pledges filed by all the countries – the nationally determined contributions, or NDCs, as they are known.

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 22: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry holds his two year-old grand daughter Isabel Dobbs-Higginson for the signing of the accord at the United Nations Signing Ceremony for the Paris Agreement climate change accord that came out of negotiations at the COP21 climate summit last December in Paris. on April 22, 2016 in New York City. At least 155 countries are expected to sign the agreement which has the goal of limiting warming to "well below" 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. The ceremony symbolically takes place on Earth Day. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

NEW YORK, NY – APRIL 22: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry holds his two year-old grand daughter Isabel Dobbs-Higginson for the signing of the accord at the United Nations Signing Ceremony for the Paris Agreement climate change accord on April 22, 2016 in New York City. The ceremony symbolically took place on Earth Day. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Signing the Paris agreement is the first of a two-step process for countries to formally join the agreement—the next is ratification. The deal will come into force on the 30th day after the date on which at least 55 parties, representing at least 55 percent of global greenhouse gases, complete this process.

In the the U.S., Secretary of State John Kerry signed the agreement Friday, and then President Barack Obama will ratify it before he leaves office in December, a senior U.S. official told CBS News in a conference call this week.  UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced that 15 countries would formally join the agreement immediately on Friday, many of them small island developing states—which the World Resources Institute notes “are poised to suffer the worst impacts of climate change even though they contributed the least to causing the problem.”

Notable, “the emissions gap is set to grow,” said a recent report by two analysts at Chatham House, of the Royal Institute of International Affairs. “While a 2-degree C pathway requires a rapid decline in annual global net emissions to close to zero by the end of the century, the NDC’s imply that emissions will continue to rise throughout that period.”  “The next five years are crucial,” it said. Unless ambitions are increased swiftly, the growing emissions gap would grow too  fast. That would make what looks extremely difficult now a self-fulfilling impossibility.

In addition to their message that “the next five years are critical for keeping the below 2˚C goal within reach” (vs. keeping 1.5 C in reach, GCCM’s position, which means metanoia and turn to a new path now), the researchers say that the G7, G20, and a ‘facilitative dialogue’ starting in 2018 :can play a crucial role in kickstarting these efforts.”  In addition they say that “the ‘coalitions of the willing’ and clubs that were launched under the Lima-Paris Action Agenda provide an innovative space for state and non-state actors to unlock transformational change. However, it is important that these groups set specific and measurable targets to ensure effective delivery of objectives.”

They also note, “The post-Paris regime implies a significant role for civil society organizations. However, in many countries the ‘safe operating space’ both for these organizations and for the media is shrinking. Expanding the capacity of civil society and the media in areas such as communications, litigation, project implementation and technical expertise will be important if they are to support the regime effectively.

The next five years are crucial

It is crucial that the Paris Agreement enters into force in 2020 with significantly higher ambitions. Waiting until 2025 will leave parties with an insurmountable emissions gap as well as a loss of momentum.  According to Climate Action Tracker, the emissions gap will grow from around 3 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) a year at present to some 11 GtCO2e a year in 2025 – which is more than the current emissions level of China.  Moreover, 2025 is also at least five years after global emissions are supposed to have peaked under a 2C least cost pathway.  (A 1.5 C least cost pathway must start now).   The later the peak year, the deeper and faster emissions reductions must happen subsequently if the long-term goal is to remain within reach.  This will increase ‘asset stranding’ and economic costs and hopeful reliance on untested or speculative strategies.

The European Commission’s March communication on ‘The Road from Paris’8 in effect overlooks the pre-2020 opportunity to increase ambition; instead, it locks in the current 2030 target until expiry.   A myopic focus on increasing 2030 targets risks failing to prepare for what will need to come after – namely, rapid, deep and sustained emissions cuts leading to net zero emissions in the second half of this century. The important point here is that whether economies are able to decarbonize on such a challenging trajectory will depend on the policies and investments they make early on. Infrastructure lifetimes mean many investments made today will still be operating in 30–40 years’ time when, for example, electricity and transport systems need to be approaching zero carbon. Plans that work backwards from a long-term goal are required to ensure that today’s decisions do not preclude tomorrow’s emissions reductions.  This is the case not only in transport and power, but equally in other sectors such as the built environment, agriculture and forestry.9

The Paris Agreement states that governments ‘should strive to formulate and communicate long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies’ by 2020. Those strategies will allow for a crucial examination of the credibility of governments’ long-term ambitions and the extent to which they are consistent with Paris’s long-term goals and with current policy-making. The G7 countries, which committed themselves in 2015 to decarbonize their economies ‘over the course of the century’, will be expected to show leadership in the formulation of longterm strategies. However, the G20, which counts major emitting developing countries among its members, would be a more appropriate group to push this agenda forward as discussion could also examine the management of sinks to reduce climate risk.

Maximizing sequestration potential in the land-use sector will require governments to develop comprehensive land management frameworks that can assess the mitigation potential of land under different uses and weigh that
potential against other objectives, such as food security.  This approach implies lower levels of livestock production, which currently uses around 75 per cent of agricultural land globally and is a major source of direct and indirect
emissions, accounting for 14.5 per cent of the global total of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.13

A focus on both public and private finance is needed to deliver a low-carbon transformation
Delivering a low-carbon transformation requires shifting financial flows from high-carbon to low-carbon investments.

Developed countries are ‘urged’ to set out a roadmap to providing $100 billion annually by 2020.  However, the thorny accounting problems remain unresolved, as do issues related to measurement, reporting and verification.
Reaching agreement on what should count towards the $100 billion and then delivering it will be crucial to maintaining political momentum.

The other – and even bigger – challenge is mobilizing the substantial investment required to deliver a low carbon transformation. Scale and timing are crucial, as infrastructure financed today will still be operating and affecting emissions in 2050 – by which time the world should be approaching full decarbonization. There are various estimates as to how much investment is needed, but $1 trillion a year between now and 2050 is widely used as a benchmark. For the power sector alone, there is an estimated $12.1 trillion ‘opportunity’ over the next 25 years (to 2040) to deliver a 2C pathway.14

On the risk side, the Financial Stability Board’s Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures will help financial institutions to better understand exposure to fossil fuel investment. On the ‘opportunity’ side, continent-scale renewable energy projects (such as those launched in Paris15) and initiatives to create ‘investable’ NDCs and green infrastructure will help scale up investment, while targeted use of public finance is a core part of the overall solution.

Creating ‘coalitions of the willing’ and a club culture?

For some time before the Paris breakthrough, academics such as David Victor had been proposing minilateral ‘climate clubs’ or ‘coalitions of the willing’ as the solution to the UNFCCC’s glacial progress. The logic behind this proposal is that such groups can provide a more conducive forum for small numbers of like-minded governments to ‘get things done’ on a particular issue than can largescale negotiations, where ‘nothing will be agreed until everything is agreed’ and agreement requires consensus among 196 parties.16

The most common proposals include a club of carbon-trading countries17 and a club of high-ambition free-trading countries that penalize non-members through border tax adjustments.18 However, many have come to use the term ‘club’ more loosely, essentially to mean ‘coalitions of the willing’ devoted to various issues on which governments may wish to cooperate. Given that the NDCs are supposed to provide a floor for ambition, there is certainly scope for clubs to emerge among governments wishing to go further and faster.

Clubs should set common targets or collective goals that are specific and measurable, and for which members can be held accountable. This, in effect, means finding a way for them to ‘engage and dock’ with the NDC registry and transparency framework while still providing for flexibility in the means of delivery.

The important role of civil society

The new regime implies a very significant role for civil society that includes: 

  • Holding governments to account in the absence of binding commitments and an enforcement mechanism 
  • Evaluating (and verifying) government implementation of commitments in the absence of an independent verification mechanism
  • Assessing the adequacy of commitments – both in aggregate and individually – against long-term objectives
  • Mobilizing around key opportunities to push governments to raise ambition.

The role of civil society is by no means confined to mitigation; it applies equally to adaptation and the mobilization of climate finance. Nor will civil society and the media focus only on governments. The post-Paris regime’s emphasis on non-state action and the potential for climate clubs (particularly in the absence of robust monitoring, reporting and verification standards applicable to non-state actors) will put increasing pressure on civil society to monitor business and the actions and commitments of other non-state actors.

However, this is becoming more difficult.  Between 2012 and 2015 more than 60 countries reportedly passed or initiated legislation restricting CSO freedoms.  Not surprisingly, CSOs and the media often come under pressure in precisely those countries where they are most needed.  In India, Greenpeace was called ‘anti-national’ by the federal government, its bank accounts frozen and foreign staff members deported. Meanwhile, a new law in China will require NGOs to register with the police, seek approval to carry out various activities, and report to a supervisory authority.  The US electronically tracks many climate activists.

Furthermore, CSOs and the media may be constrained in some of the poorest and most climate-vulnerable countries, where adaptation is the overwhelming priority. The most recent CSO Sustainability Index, which is published by USAID, recognized the important role of sub-Saharan African CSOs but lamented the ‘daunting hurdles’ they face from ‘non-supportive or hostile governments’.19

Citing the significant “unfinished business left from Paris,” Oxfam International executive director Winnie Byanyima on Friday said the provisions in the deal “are not enough to avoid a pathway towards a 3°C world and does not ensure the provision of adequate funding to ensure millions of vulnerable people can prepare for and respond to increasing climate chaos.” In fact, she noted, “If all of today’s public climate adaptation finance were to be divided among the world’s 1.5 billion smallholder farmers in developing counties, they would get around $3 each a year to cope with climate change.”

In order to curtail dangerous climate change, according to FOEI:

  • We need a just, global energy transformation, including blocking dirty energy projects, improving energy efficiency, tackling energy access issues and moving to community-owned renewable energy.
  • We need finance from developed to developing countries to help them move away from dirty energy.
  • We need countries to cut emissions at source, and not hide behind carbon markets, REDD and other false solutions.

To do so will require a paradigm shift, said Nnimmo Bassey, director of the HOME (Health of Mother Earth) Foundation.  “The Paris Agreement locks in fossil fuels and, to underscore corporate capture of the negotiations, the word ‘fossil’ is not as much as mentioned in the document,” he pointed out. “It is shocking that although the burning of fossil fuels is known to be a major contributor to global warming, climate negotiations engage in platitudes rather than going to the core of the problem.”  “Scientists tell us that burning of fossil fuels would have to end by 2030 if there would be a chance of keeping temperature increase to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels,” Bassey continued. “The signal we get from the silence on the fossils factor is that oil and coal companies can continue to extract profit while burning the planet.”

Climate-related litigation

Litigation has the potential to play an increasing role in holding governments and business to account for actions on climate change. As has been seen in other sectors, such as the tobacco industry in relation to cancer, willful negligence in the face of scientific evidence can have far-reaching legal consequences. In 1998 the largest US tobacco companies and 46 US states signed the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, whereby manufacturers agreed to pay an estimated $206 billion over the first 25 years of the agreement.

While there are, of course, significant differences between climate change and tobacco, litigation related to the former has been increasing of late. In June 2015 courts in the Netherlands ordered the government to cut emissions by at least 25 per cent over the next five years after a civil action had been brought by campaigners.b In November 2015 ExxonMobil was subject to an investigation by the New York Attorney General into whether the company had lied about the risks of climate change and whether it had failed to disclose to investors just how those risks might affect oil companies’ business models.c  It will be difficult post-Paris for any country or business to claim credibly that it was unaware of potential climate impacts, including in relation to how the long-term goal of holding global average temperature increases to well below 2C could affect their business models.


Paris was a resounding success. The flexible, inclusive and dynamic characteristics of the new regime provide a solid anchor for efforts to manage climate risk. The positive energy generated, along with the mobilization
of both state and non-state actors, is a remarkable achievement. However, the new regime is somewhat messy and unstandardized, and does not yet add up to a credible ‘below 2oC’ pathway. Ensuring that it functions effectively and maximizes ambition will require the following:

  • Urgent climate diplomacy among the major emitters to deliver a joint material increase in ambition by 2020
  • National planning processes that ensure long-term decarbonization objectives inform short-term policies and investments
  • Comprehensive national land-use strategies that transform the land-use sector from source to sink without compromising wider decarbonization efforts and food security
  • Measures under which the financial system and its regulations support the shift to low-carbon investment
  • Continued development of the regime to better accommodate climate clubs, including encouraging their formation subject to appropriate governance and appropriate monitoring, reporting and verification; and
  • Allowing CSOs to support the regime effectively by removing constraints on the freedoms of those organizations and the media, as well as by enabling investment in new areas of capacity.

For questions, please contact marie (at) or:

– Andrew Jones, Climate Interactive, [email protected], +1-828-231-4576
– John Sterman, MIT Sloan School of Management, [email protected], +1-339-223-0576
– Ellie Johnston, Climate Interactive, [email protected], +1-336-202-8907