Nearly every nation on Earth—and their ambition to fight climate change—is on display in Paris, as international negotiators convene to thrash out one of the most complex global agreements ever negotiated.
Collective climate pledges would limit global warming to 2.7 degrees Celsius, according to the Climate Action Tracker consortium, not enough to keep the planet from heating up to a potentially catastrophic level. With the talks in their final hours, the fundamental question of national responsibility—who will do what by when—remains a key sticking point.
Developing nations and emerging economies like India want the richest nations, chiefly the United States, to bear the greatest burden of driving down emissions and financing climate adaptation, because they bear historic blame for the climate problem. While China and India are now the world’s largest and third-largest carbon emitters, respectively, America’s carbon footprint is far, far bigger. The U.S. emits 17 tons of greenhouse gas emissions per capita, compared to 1.7 tons in India, which has nearly four times as many people. The Democratic Republic of Congo, a vulnerable African nation, by comparison, is at just 0.1 tons.
In this photo essay, we walk you through some countries’ carbon-cutting plans and their displays at the convention center in Le Bourget, outside of Paris and home to the talks.
The United States
By 2025, the United States has pledged to trim its emissions to 26-28 percent below 2005 levels. The pledge won a smattering of applause—but not by Climate Action Tracker, the consortium of four European research organizations, which said it’s “the least ambitious end of what would be a fair contribution.” The U.S. in Paris is a member of the “High Ambition” coalition, along with Europe and the small island states. They are pushing for countries to review and toughen their carbon pledges every five years to raise the ambition of a deal.
China, which spews a quarter of the world’s emissions, has said it would peak emissions by 2030 at the latest, and lower the carbon intensity of its economy by 60 to 65 percent below 2005 levels over the next 15 years. “A one-thousand-mile journey starts from the first step,” its pledge document said, as the nation committed to a new and high level of ambition. China’s climate action is driven in part by air pollution concerns at home, which this week led to a first-ever red alert in Beijing that closed schools and businesses.
India, the world’s third-largest emitter, was the last large economy to release its climate pledge, and when it did it left some questioning whether it was doing enough. The country said it would reduce the emissions intensity of its economy by 33-35 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, but unlike other countries, it has not agreed to concrete carbon cuts. India has argued that its priority is lifting its massive population out of poverty and getting access to electricity for the hundreds of millions who don’t currently have it. Other countries–particularly the United States, which bears historic responsibility for the climate problem–should do the lion’s share of the work, it says. Climate Action Tracker grouped India’s plan with the United States’ and China’s, ranking it “medium.” India’s pavillon is the most elaborate among all the countries, with a water display.
Germany is in the midst of its “Energiewende” (energy transition), the world’s most ambitious transformation away from fossil fuels and nuclear energy, and it already gets more than a quarter of its energy from renewables. Europe’s largest economy, Germany is seen as the global leader of what’s possible when it comes to building a new energy economy. Its carbon pledge falls under the European Union’s commitment of a 40 percent emissions reduction below 1990s levels by 2030. Climate Action Tracker rated the EU’s carbon pledge as “medium” in its ambition.
France, too, falls under the European Union’s 40 percent carbon-cutting pledge. France, along with Germany, became the first developed economies to back the call for a 1.5 degree temperature target in a Paris climate deal.
Turkey has committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 21 percent below below business-as-usual in 2030, a pledge that would result in a 389 percent increase in its emissions above 1990 levels. Not surprisingly, Climate Action Tracker called Turkey’s pledge “inadequate.” Its pavillion at the Paris talks is decorated in tourist posters and advertisements.
At a time when many countries are stepping up their climate commitments, Japan has moved in the opposite direction. Japan has pledged to reduce emissions by 26 percdent below 2013 levels– equivalent to 18 percent below 1990 levels–by 2030. At the Copenhagen talks in 2009, before the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Japan had pledged a 25 percent cut below 1990 levels. Climate Action Tracker ranked Japan’s target as “inadequate.“
Indonesia has pledged to reduce its emissions by 29 percent by 2030, or 41 percent if it receives international funding. It recently surpassed Brazil as the world’s largest contributor to deforestation, and is one of the planet’s biggest carbon emitters because of its razing and burning of forests, a critical carbon sink. Indonesia’s carbon pledge received an “inadequate.” by the Climate Tracker consortium.
The Gulf States have some of the highest per-capita emissions in the world, and are also among the most affected by climate change impacts. Both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates submitted carbon pledges that were called “inadequate” by Climate Action Tracker. The UAE did not include a CO2 reduction target; Saudi Arabia pledged to reduce it emissions annually by up to 130 metric tons of in 2030, but said its ability to do so requires continued “robust contribution from oil export revenues to the national economy.”
South Korea’s carbon cut includes a promise to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 37 percent below business-as-usual levels by 2030. That would mean limiting greenhouse gas emissions to 536 metric tons in 2030, which adds up to an 81 percent increase from 1990 levels. Its target has been ranked “inadequate” by Climate Action Tracker.
Morocco has pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions–including land use, land use change and forestry–by 13 percent below business-as-usual levels by 2030. If wealthy nations make good on their financial pledges to developing economies, it would halt its emissions growth and implement a target of 42 percent renewable electricity generation by 2020. Climate Action Tracker rated Morocco’s pledge as “sufficient.”
Ecuador has promised to reduce emissions from its energy sector by 20.4 to 25 percent below business-as-usual levels. With financial help from the international community, it would strengthen those reductions to between 37.5 and 45.8 percent below business as usual.