Developed nations reveal emissions targets

Ahead of next month’s UN climate talks in Copenhagen, most of the world’s industralized countries have announced emissions targets that they will bring to the negotiating table. I say most, not all. Guess who’s lagging?

If you guessed the good ol’ US of A is the laggard, you were right.

Now, it’s true that not all of the emissions targets being proposed are terribly ambitious. South Korea, for instance, has proposed a 30% reduction from “business as usual” by 2020, which sounds great. But that actually works out to be only about 4% below 2005 levels, whereas scientists tell us that we need to reduce global emissions to about 25% below 1990 levels to be on track to avert the worst impacts of global warming.

Russia, on the other hand, has signaled that it’s prepared to cut emissions 20% below 1990 levels by 2020, and even willing to go up to 25% given a favorable outcome in Copenhagen.

This issue of which so-called “baseline year” to use – 1990 or 2005 – is extremely important. The climate bill passed by the House, for instance, uses the 2005 baseline, as does the bill currently before the Senate.

The year 1990 is the preferred baseline because that was when the IPCC issued its First Assessment Report and the world began to get serious about dealing with global warming. I don’t honestly know why 2005 is the alternative baseline year, but I do know that it happens to be the year that US emissions were the highest they’ve ever been.

So when you hear that the Kerry-Boxer bill before the Senate shoots for 20% reductions relative to 2005, that’s not the same as a 20% reduction pledge relative to 1990 made by the EU. The Kerry-Boxer bill’s target works out to about 7% below 1990 levels – which is a bit better than what the House bill calls for (17% below 2005 levels, which is about 4% below 1990 levels).

So while the US hasn’t put its own emissions targets on the table yet, that might actually be a good thing, given the low-ball numbers both Houses of Congress are working with. The US needs to lead the world in Copenhagen, not cover for other low-ballers like South Korea and drag down the efforts of developed countries like Russia and those in the EU who are discussing ambitious emissions reductions targets.

Image by [JP] Corrêa Carvalho via Flickr.

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