18 November 2016
Mitigation Update: Germany, Mexico and US Submit Long-term Climate Strategies as 2016 Breaks Global Temperature Records
UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
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Germany, Mexico and the US submitted the first long-term climate change strategies.These strategies were released at the same time that the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) released news indicating that 2016 is on track to become the “hottest year on record.” In a related announcement, Microsoft Corporation released an updated white paper outlining how to broaden the impacts of its carbon fee programme, beyond achieving carbon neutrality for the company.

17 November 2016: Germany, Mexico and the US have submitted the first long-term climate strategies, setting goals for deep greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions by 2050. The U.S. committed to reduce its emissions by 80% compared to 2005 levels. Mexico aims for a 50% reduction in emissions compared to the year 2000. Germany will pursue “essential GHG neutrality,” meaning a reduction of 80-95% compared to 1990 levels, with an interim target of reducing emissions by 55% by 2030.

These strategies were released at the same time that the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) released news indicating that 2016 is on track to become the “hottest year on record.” According to the WMO’s ‘Provisional Statement on the Status of the Global Climate in 2016,’ the current year is “very likely to be the hottest year on record,” thus taking the infamous crown from 2015, which broke the global record less than 12 months ago. The statement notes that global temperatures during the first nine months of the year have been 0.88 ºC above the average temperatures for the 1961-90 reference period and 1.2 ºC above those in the pre-industrial period. Higher than normal temperatures were recorded over most of the world’s land mass and in the majority of oceans leading, among other impacts, to coral bleaching and marine ecosystem disruption in tropical seas. GHG concentrations also reached record levels with mean CO2 levels exceeding 400 ppm for the entire period for the first time. The impacts of higher temperatures were evident in Arctic sea ice extent “well below normal” and record melting on the Greenland ice sheet, as well as several high impact events, such as Hurricane Matthew, Typhoon Linonrock, and floods and heatwaves around the world.

In an interview, WMO Secretary General Petteri Taalas warned that disasters and other climate change impacts will continue to negatively impact countries, economies and human well-being. [WMO Press Release] [Provisional Statement on the Status of the Global Climate in 2016] [Interview with WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas]

The WMO’s ‘Provisional Statement on the Status of the Global Climate in 2016’ indicates that 2016 is “very likely to be the hottest year on record,” thus taking the infamous crown from 2015, which broke the global record less than 12 months ago.

Different Pathways towards Deep Decarbonization

The strategies presented by Germany, Mexico and the US are examples of the diversity of approaches towards the common goal of achieving deep reductions in GHG emissions by mid-century in accordance with “differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances.” [UNFCCC Press Release]

The ‘United States Mid-Century Strategy for Deep Decarbonization’ reviews U.S. GHG emissions and trends and presents a decarbonization pathway based on three pillars: transitioning to a low-carbon energy system; sequestering carbon through forests, soils and CO2 removal technologies; and reducing non-CO2 emissions. According to the strategy, a low-carbon energy system can be achieved through action on: reducing energy waste; replacing fossil fuel electricity production with low-carbon technologies such as renewables, nuclear and fossil or bioenergy fuels combined with carbon and capture; and shifting to clean electricity and low carbon fuels for transportation, buildings and industry. These measures are expected to achieve a 74-86% reduction of energy-related CO2 emissions by 2050.

With regard to carbon sequestration, the strategy states that maintaining and enhancing the land carbon sink “could offset up to 45% of U.S. emissions by 2050.” It also discusses the role of carbon removal technologies such as bioenergy plus carbon capture and storage (BECCS), noting that such technologies can complement, not substitute for, emissions reductions. The third pillar addresses non-CO2 emissions such as flue gas, methane and nitrous oxide from sources such as livestock and agriculture, landfills or oil and gas production. The final section of the U.S. strategy shows how action in these three areas can lead to emissions reductions of 80% by 2050 compared to a “no mitigation” scenario under which emissions would increase substantially driven by economic growth and land sink loss. [United States Mid-Century Strategy for Deep Decarbonization]

Mexico’s ‘Climate Change Mid-Century Strategy’ contains sections on: context; objective; long-term vision; adaption and mitigation strategy, including policies; and a process for evaluation and updating of the strategy. The context section explains the strategy’s science-based approach and reviews relevant scientific evidence . The chapter on long-term vision provides detailed 10-, 20-, and 40-year milestones for society, ecosystems, energy, emissions, productive ecosystems, private sector and mobility. The vision includes both quantitative targets and qualitative objectives. On energy, for example, it includes a target to achieve at least 50% of generation from clean sources in 40 years, as well as stating that in 40 years, “clean energy generation supports economic development of every sector in a sustainable way.” Other areas include objectives that are aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and other international objectives, such as, for instance, the objective to protect most “vulnerable ecosystems with appropriate policies and financial resources” within 10 years. This objective is in line with both the Aichi Biodiversity Targets of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) as well as SDG 15 (Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss).

The sections on mitigation and adaptation describe policies, approaches and measures with regard to, among others: inter-institutional collaboration; market-based instruments; innovation, research and development and technology adoption; building a climate culture; social participation; vulnerability assessment; adaptation process; and objectives of adaptation. The sections also contain detailed discussions of evidence and scenarios for climate change mitigation and adaptation in Mexico, including detailed action areas and specific sector objectives. [Mexican Climate Change Mid-Century Strategy]

The German ‘Climate Action Plan’ lays out guiding principles, transformative pathways, and strategic measures for each area of action, including milestones and targets that define the framework for action until 2030. The framework defines the following sector-specific emission reduction targets for 2030: 62-61% for energy; 67-66% for buildings; 42-40% for transport; 51-49% for industry; 34-31% for agriculture; and 87% for other sectors. The Plan further states that the German government will establish a commission for growth, structural change and regional development to work with federal states, municipalities, trade unions, industry branches and regional stakeholders in developing instruments for economic development, structural change, social compatibility and climate action.

Other elements of the Climate Action Plan include: a strategy for “an almost climate-neutral building stock,” addressing new buildings and refurbishment and focusing on renewable energy sources; a climate strategy for road transport addressing emissions from cars, light and heavy commercial vehicles and focusing on GHG-free energy supply; a research and development programme to be developed with industry; and a land-use strategy focusing on preservation and improving carbon sequestration. The plan will be implemented through a series of programmes and measures to be developed in collaboration with the German parliament, the first of which is to be adopted in 2018. [German Climate Action Plan 2050]

Broadening the Reach of Mitigation Action in the Private Sector

One of the key principles of the Paris Agreement is that it not only addresses countries and governments, but calls on all sectors of society to contribute to accelerated and an increasing scale of climate action. One example of private sector action presented at the Paris Conference was the ‘Making an impact with Microsoft’s Carbon Fee’ report, which detailed how a multi-national company can deliver mitigation contributions using an internal carbon price. At Marrakech, Microsoft presented a white paper titled ‘Beyond Carbon Neutral,’ in which the company lays out how it envisages using its Carbon Fee programme to achieve desired outcomes beyond becoming carbon emissions neutral in its operations. The White Paper reviews the achievements of the Carbon Fee programme since its inception in 2012, and describes next steps towards broader impacts. The updated vision includes the following objectives: internalizing the cost of the company’s carbon emissions; transforming the company’s culture; catalyzing and accelerating climate-neutral innovation; and supporting the transition to a low-carbon economy. The subsequent sections describe Microsoft’s efforts to achieve such broader impacts. For example, the company is using procurement policies to increase the size of renewable energy markets, including long-term commitments, and developing new energy procurement options. Another example is carbon offset community projects to support low-carbon energy access and sustainable community development. The company has also revised its criteria for project selection to align with the SDGs and expanded its climate grants programme to support: local energy and technology innovation; transformation of energy ecosystems; the design of sustainable facilities; and the reduction, reuse and recycling of electronic waste. [UNFCCC Press Release] [Making an impact with Microsoft’s Carbon Fee] [Beyond Carbon Neutral]

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