Forest and industrial field with pollution overhead

From Good Intentions to Deep Decarbonization

In the run-up to the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, many observers wondered whether plans submitted by more than 150 governments to reduce carbon emissions by 2030 would be enough. But there is a more important question: Will the chosen path to 2030 provide the basis for ending greenhouse-gas emissions later in the century?

NEW YORK – In the run-up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris, more than 150 governments submitted plans to reduce carbon emissions by 2030. Many observers are asking whether these reductions are deep enough. But there is an even more important question: Will the chosen path to 2030 provide the basis for ending greenhouse-gas emissions later in the century?

According to the scientific consensus, climate stabilization requires full decarbonization of our energy systems and zero net greenhouse-gas emissions by around 2070. The G-7 has recognized that decarbonization – the only safe haven from disastrous climate change – is the ultimate goal this century. And many heads of state from the G-20 and other countries have publicly declared their intention to pursue this path.

Yet the countries at COP21 are not yet negotiating decarbonization. They are negotiating much more modest steps, to 2025 or 2030, called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). The United States’ INDC, for example, commits the US to reduce CO2 emissions by 26-28%, relative to a 2005 baseline, by 2025.

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