Climate Change

National targets to limit global warming: Off by a mile

Even enhanced Nationally Determined Contributions are not nearly enough to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C. Many poor countries, with low annual emissions, have pledged higher targets than rich countries. This is a mockery of the principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities and a human rights concern

Published: Tuesday 26 October 2021

Source: Our World in DataUnder the Paris Agreement, adopted in 2015 as an international treaty to limit and cut greenhouse gases, countries agreed to provide voluntary targets called Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) for how they will limit or reduce emissions (see 'Route to NDC').

The agreement also stated that NDCs would work to achieve the goal of keeping global temperature rise this century to well below 2°C above the pre-industrial level and to pursue efforts to limit the rise to 1.5°C.

As per the agreement’s “ratcheting mechanism”, nations are expected to submit progressively more ambitious NDCs every five years. Accordingly, countries had to submit their second NDC by 2020, but of the 192 parties to the Paris Agreement a majority did not meet the deadline.

Source: Our World in DataAs of October 15, 2021, a total of 113 countries (112 countries plus EU-27) have submitted new NDC targets, while 49 countries have not, as per Climate Action Tracker, an independent scientific analysis produced by two Germany-based research organisations, Climate Analytics and New Climate Institute EU-27 and the UK submitted more ambitious NDCs of reducing GHG emissions by 55 per cent and 68 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030.

The US, under the new President Joe Biden, has upped its target and pledged 50-52 per cent reduction below 2005 levels by 2030. Japan has proposed a stronger NDC target of 46 per cent reduction of GHG emissions below 2013 levels by 2030 but is yet to formally submit it.

Down To Earth and Centre for Science and Environment, Delhi, have attempted to project the emissions of 45 countries — a mix of developed and developing economies, including EU-27 — for 2020-2030.

For this, the percentage reduction targets for GHG emissions under the NDCs submitted by these countries have been considered.

Where available, updated or second NDCs, as of September 2021, have been considered. The remaining countries have been considered as “rest of the world”.

Developed countries have pledged lower emissions reduction by 2030 than many developing countriesSince India and China have emission intensity targets (reduction of CO2 emissions per unit of GDP) for their NDC, we have not applied any emissions reductions and assumed that their emissions remain the same in both the scenarios for simplicity of analysis.

It is important to note that in many cases, countries have provided “conditional” NDCs — they will enhance their ambition if climate finance and other support is provided.

For instance, Ethiopia has said it will reduce emissions by 14 per cent (unconditional) and 68.8 per cent (conditional) by 2030 as compared to the “business as usual” scenario. Zambia commits to reduce its emissions by 25 per cent (under limited international support) and towards 47 per cent (with substantial international support).

For calculating NDCs, we have assumed these conditions will be met.

We project their emissions for 2020-30 in two scenarios:

(i) Assuming that the NDCs are fully achieved by 2030, or the NDC scenario: As per IPCC, global emissions need to reduce by 45 per cent over 2010 levels by 2030 to keep the temperature rise to 1.5°C. In 2010, global CO2 emissions were 33 Gt. Therefore, the world needs to keep its annual CO2 emissions under 18.2 Gt in 2030 to meet this target (see 'Not nearly enough').

But even if it achieves the enhanced NDCs, it would be emitting 37.71 GtCO2 in 2030. This is more than double the amount of CO2 the world should be emitting in 2030.

To put it in another way, if the NDCs of these 45 nations are fully implemented, the world will emit 409 GtCO2 in 2020-30, against the available budget of 400 GtCO2.

(ii) Assuming that no emission reduction efforts were undertaken, or "business as usual" scenario—where we have taken the median rate of change of emissions annually over the past decade (2010-2019): Under the "business as usual" scenario, the world would emit 425.73 GtCO2, which is just 16.70 GtCO2 higher than the NDC scenario, in 2020-2030.


Comparison of per capita emissions in the 45 countries in 2019 and then again in 2030, if the NDCs are achieved, reveals how skewed the global burden of CO2 reduction is against developing countries (see 'Unequal world').

Zambia and Micronesia, ranked 146th and 136th in Human Development Index (HDI), have pledged to reduce their per capita emissions by over 50 per cent, while Japan and Australia will reduce them by 30 per cent by 2030 (see 'Low on ambition'). Russia will increase them by 16 per cent.

Botswana, ranked 100 in HDI, has committed a 15 per cent reduction in GHG emissions by 2030 as compared to 2010 levels. The country’s total emissions in 2010 were 0.0045 GtCO2 and would be 0.0039 GtCO2 in 2030.

Its per capita emissions in 2010 were 2.28 tonnes and would be reduced to 1.39 tonnes in 2030. Under the “business as usual” scenario, it would have increased its per capita emissions to 7.54 tonnes by 2030.

Instead it will reduce them to even below the 2010 levels.

Clearly, countries low on HDI and with minuscule per capita footprint, are shouldering the burden of emissions reductions, while historical polluters play a small part.

This is not only a mockery of the principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities, but a serious human rights concern as poor nations attempt to constrain their developmental health in trying to abide by the Paris Agreement.

Source: Analysis by Down to Earth and Centre for Science and Environment, Delhi, based on data from Climate Watch and Our World in Data

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