Eco Briefs: COP 21 pledges to date short of 2 degrees C goal; Catholics declare ‘Month of Climate Action’

This story appears in the COP 21 Paris feature series. View the full series.

by Brian Roewe

NCR environment correspondent

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The 146 climate action plans submitted to date by nations would only limit global temperature rise to 2.7 degrees Celsius by 2100, according to a United Nations report released Friday.

The plans -- which represent 86 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, including all developed nations -- so far come up short of the U.N. climate convention’s goal of curbing global warming by 2 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels. The report found that even with the pledges, accounting those submitted through Oct. 1, aggregate global emissions levels will continue to rise through 2030, though the growth rate for 2010-2030 is projected to be anywhere from 10 percent to 57 percent lower than the rate from 1990-2010.

At the same time, global average per capita emissions are expected to fall in the next 15 years, potentially dropping by 8 percent in 2025 and 9 percent in 2030. Most pledges outlined a 5- or 10-year implementation period. However, the report pointed out that temperature levels by century’s end “strongly depend on assumptions on socioeconomic drivers, technology development and action undertaken by Parties beyond the time frames stated in their INDCs,” noting such assumptions are beyond its scope.

The possibility to achieve the 2 degrees warming or less target remains, the report said, even if no further steps are taken beyond the initial pledges, but would require “substantially higher annual emission reduction rates” and financial costs.

The pledges represent the foundation for the global climate agreement expected to be finalized in Paris in December during the latest U.N. climate negotiations. Through the Lima Accord reached at the climate summit last December in Peru, the 195 member nations of the U.N. all agreed to put forth their own plans (“Intended Nationally Determined Contributions”) on how they will reduce greenhouse gas emissions within their borders. The U.N. report stated that the pledges “indicate a significant increase in the number of countries taking climate action.”

The U.S. has pledged to cut emissions by 26 percent to 28 percent by 2025* compared to 2005 levels. Observers have described the U.S. commitment as “a positive signal” but questions remains whether it represents a fair share of its overall responsibility.

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, remained optimistic despite the initial pledges falling short of the 2 degrees goal, saying the plans “represent a clear and determined down-payment on a new era of climate ambition.”

“I am confident that these INDCs are not the final word in what countries are ready to do and achieve over time -- the journey to a climate safe-future is underway and the Paris agreement to be inked in Paris can confirm, and catalyze that transition,” Figueres said in a statement.

Catholic climate coalition declares November a 'Month of Climate Action'

The Global Catholic Climate Movement, a coalition of more than 230 organizations, has designated November as the “Month of Climate Action,” as part of the lead-up to the two-week U.N. climate summit in Paris, formally known as the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP 21), which opens Nov. 30.

“We unite in prayer and activism with all Catholics who insist that COP 21 produce sound climate policies – ones that encourage lifestyles rooted in solidarity, charity, and justice, the natural limits of our common home, and acknowledgement of the need to protect shared resources crucial for life," the movement said. 

The campaign asks for Catholics to join a virtual pilgrimage through prayers and pledges, joining actual, on-the-ground pilgrimages, most notably the People’s Pilgrimage, as they head toward the French capital for the international climate conference.

One way people can participate is by signing the coalition’s Catholic Climate Petition, which so far has gathered more than 200,000 signatures. GCCM has set Nov. 14-15 as a petition drive weekend, with the total signatures presented Nov. 28 to U.N. representatives during an interfaith rally in Paris. The coalition has also encouraged people to join the #Pray4COP21 prayer chain, marking four specific dates for prayer: Nov. 1 (All Saints Day); Nov. 2 (All Souls Day); Nov. 8 (two-year anniversary of Typhoon Haiyan); and Nov. 22 (the Feast of Christ the King).

In addition, the Global Catholic Climate Movement is encouraging Catholics to join it and other environmental groups in Paris and elsewhere around the world on Nov. 29 for the Global Climate March, which organizers have boasted could see as many as 1 million people in 3,000 cities (and as many as 400,000 in Paris) collectively ask world leaders to take meaningful action to address climate change. In September 2014, the People's Climate March drew estimates of 300,000 people to the streets of New York ahead of a U.N. climate summit. 

Catholics re-up support for Clean Power Plan

Last Friday, the Clean Power Plan was finalized into the Federal Register. That same day, the Catholic Climate Covenant reiterated its support, as well as that of U.S. bishops, for national limits on carbon pollution.

The plan, developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and a key aspect of President Barack Obama’s climate agenda, seeks to limit carbon emissions from the power sector by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. It has faced significant opposition from the coal industry and state attorneys general, 24 of whom filed a lawsuit the day it finalized claiming it unlawfully extends federal regulatory power, as well as from some corners of Congress.

Dan Misleh, Catholic Climate Covenant executive director, urged Congress to allow the plan to move forward, calling it “a vital step for a safer future,” and one reflecting Francis’ appeal in Laudato Si’ for the world to progressively transition away from fossil fuels.

“I am continually challenged by Pope Francis’ question in his landmark encyclical, Laudato Si’ when he said, ‘What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us?’”” said Misleh, referencing Paragraph 160, in a statement. “I hope Congress will give this question serious consideration, too, and look out for the health and wellbeing of current and future generations who are already being impacted by worsening droughts and storms.”

[Brian Roewe is an NCR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter: @BrianRoewe.]

Editor's note: A previous version of this story misstated the timeline for U.S. emissions cuts outlined in its U.N. climate pledge.

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