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Frequently Asked Questions

General questions on climate change

General questions on climate policy

Questions on abrupt climate change

Questions related to the Conference of the Parties (COP)

What is climate and how does it differ from weather?

Weather in any particular location or region can change quickly from hour to hour, day to day, season to season and year to year, even within an unchanging climate. Such changes include shifts in temperature, snow and rainfall, winds, and clouds. They are caused by an interplay of a number of factors, including rapid shifts in air circulation, slower variations in ocean conditions, or seasonal changes in the amount of sunshine. The climate of a locality or region is calculated by averaging these weather conditions over an extended period of time, usually at least 30 years. The climate also describes how weather conditions can vary from these average values. Such variations are described in statistical terms such as standard deviations or frequency of occurrence.

What is climate change?

Climate change occurs when the climate of a specific location, region or the entire planet is altered between two different periods of time. This usually occurs when something alters the total amount of the sun's energy absorbed by the earth's atmosphere and surface, or changes the amount of heat energy from the earth's surface and atmosphere that escapes to space over an extended period of time. Such changes can involve both changes in average weather conditions and changes in how much the weather varies about these averages. They can be caused by natural processes like volcanic eruptions, changes in the sun's intensity, or very slow changes in ocean circulation or land surfaces which occur on time scales of decades, centuries or longer. Alternatively, humans can also cause climates to change by releasing greenhouse gases and aerosols into the atmosphere, by changing land surfaces, and by depleting the stratospheric ozone layer. Both natural and human factors that can cause climate change are called ‘climate forcings', since they push, or ‘force' the climate to shift to new values.

What is the “greenhouse effect” and how does it affect climate?

Earth is heated by sunlight. Although ozone in the stratosphere absorbs much of the harmful ultraviolet part of sunlight, most of the sun's energy passes through the atmosphere relatively unaffected by other gases in the atmosphere. About 31% of the sunlight is reflected back to space by clouds and the earth's surface, but the remainder warms the earth's surface, oceans and atmosphere. However, in order to keep the atmosphere's energy budget in balance, the warmed earth also emits heat energy back to space as infrared radiation. As this energy radiates upward, most of it is absorbed by clouds and molecules of greenhouse gases (including water vapor) in the lower atmosphere. These re-radiate the energy in all directions, some back towards the surface and some upward, where other molecules higher up can absorb the energy again. This process of absorption and re-emission is repeated until, finally, the energy does escape from the atmosphere to space. However, because much of the energy has been recycled downward, surface temperatures become much warmer then if it the greenhouse gases were absent from the atmosphere. This natural process is known as the greenhouse effect. Without greenhouse gases, such as water vapor, carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O), the Earth's average temperature would be -19°C instead of +14°C, or 33°C colder. Over the past 10,000 years, the amount of these greenhouse gases in our atmosphere has been relatively stable. Then a few centuries ago, their concentrations began to increase due to the increasing demand for energy caused by industrialization and rising populations, and due to changing land use and human settlement patterns.

What causes climate change?

Changes in the intensity of sunlight reaching the earth can cause cycles of warming and cooling that have been a regular feature of the Earth's climatic history. Some of these solar cycles, like the four large glacial-interglacial swings during the past 400,000 years, extend over very long time scales and can have large amplitudes of 5 to 6°C. For the past 10,000 years, the earth has been in the warm interglacial phase of such a cycle. Other solar cycles are much shorter, with the shortest being the 11 year sunspot cycle. However, the magnitudes of changes in climate for these shorter cycles are much smaller than those for the long cycles. Within the past 1000 years, for example, such changes have been within a range of about 1°C. Other natural causes of climate change include variations in ocean currents (which can alter the distribution of heat and precipitation) and large eruptions of volcanoes (which can sporadically increase the concentration of atmospheric particles, blocking out more sunlight).

Most scientists are now convinced that human activities are also changing the climate. The main cause of such change is the increasing atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases. Particularly important is the increase in carbon dioxide, which is released through the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) and through deforestation and land degradation. An increase in greenhouse gases enhances the natural greenhouse effect and leads to an increase in the Earth's average surface temperature. At the regional scale, emissions of other polluting gases and particles into the atmosphere can also have large effects, although some of these can have opposing impacts. Sooty aerosols, for example, tend to warm regional climates, while sulphate aerosols will cool it by reflecting more sunlight. While their direct effects will be felt primarily within the industrialized regions, these aerosols can also indirectly alter average global temperatures and wind currents. Finally, human induced depletion of ozone in the stratosphere also tends to cool the earth's surface, while land use change can change the amount of sunlight reflected to space by the earth's surface and hence contribute to climate change.

What are the impacts of climate change?

We are already beginning to see the changes in biological and physical systems at the regional scale by the rapid increase in surface temperatures, and hence climate change. Climate change of only 1°C can significantly alter weather behavior around the world. Climate change is projected to have both beneficial and adverse environmental and socio-economic effects, but the larger the change and rate of change, the more the adverse effects predominate. Adaptation has the potential to reduce adverse effects of climate change and can often produce immediate ancillary benefits, but will not prevent all damages (IPCC Synthesis Report, 2001).

What is the Kyoto Protocol?

International concern that increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHG) are contributing to climate change prompted more than 160 countries to gather in Kyoto, Japan in December, 1997 where they agreed to set targets to reduce global GHG emissions. This agreement to set targets and the options available to countries to achieve them is known as the Kyoto Protocol. This legally binding agreement would commit industrialized countries to reduce their collective emissions of six GHG (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, sulfur hexafluoride) by approximately 5% of the levels emitted in 1990 by the year 2012. Rather than a specific target on each of the gases, the overall emissions targets for all six would be combined to give a single figure in "CO2 equivalents." The burden of initial emission reduction rests on the industrialized countries, which have built high standards of living based on fossil fuel use, and which have produced most of the anthropogenic (human caused) input of greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere to date. Developing countries can be signatories to the Protocol with the understanding that they will not have any binding emissions targets until the next negotiation period of 2012-2017. Developing countries can participate in earlier emission reductions project, however, through the Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism. The Protocol becomes legally binding when it is ratified by at least 55 countries, emitting at least 55% of the emissions addressed by the Protocol. With the approval of the Protocol by Russia in October 2004, the Kyoto Protocol became a binding international law for the ratifying parties on the 16th of February 2005. The United States and Australia, however, have stated their unwillingness to ratify the treaty and remain outside the Kyoto framework at present.

What's the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)?

The IPCC was formed jointly in 1988 by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The IPCC brings together the world's top scientists in all relevant fields, synthesizes peer-reviewed scientific literature on global warming studies, and produces authoritative assessments of the current state of knowledge of climate change. The IPCC's Second Assessment (1996) and Third Assessment (2001) serve as the key references for knowledge on climate change by the global community.

Will countries with an emission target meet their Kyoto target?

Recently the European Union and other industrialised countries have published new national emission inventories through 2008, which were officially submitted to the UN Climate Secretariat (UNFCCC). PBL has summarised the trend in historical emissions for the period 1990-2008 of the group of countries with an emission target under the Kyoto Protocol (so-called Annex I countries to the Kyoto Protocol) and extrapolated the emissions trend of the last five years (excluding 2008).

Industrialised countries will meet collective Kyoto target of -4.2% for 2010

The group industrialised countries with a Kyoto target will probably meet their emission limitation requirements of about 4.2% reduction. This target will even be met without accounting for the so-called CDM projects that aim at emission reductions in developing countries and fast growing economies and which reduction may be accounted for as part of the national Kyoto target (see Figure). When linearly extrapolating the trend of the years 2002-2007 from 2008 to 2012, the average emission reduction of this group of countries in the the Kyoto target period 2008-2012 will be close to 16%. When including the fraction of CDM projects “in the pipeline” that are presently expected to become used, which account for approximately 200 megatonne (= million) CO2 equivalent per year, the total reduction may even be somewhat larger.

The collective reduction of 16%, expected under the assumption listed above, is due to the limited increase in emissions in OECD countries (e.g. a stabilisation in the European Union since about 1995 and a further decrease in 2007 and 2008) and in particular due to the large reduction of about 40% until 1999 in the Economies In Transition (EIT) (Russia, Ukraine and other Eastern European countries). In the EIT countries, as a result of their economic recovery, greenhouse gas emissions started to increase again (at an average rate of about 1% per year), while the Kyoto target of the largest countries is +1% and -8% for the smaller countries. The latter also aids that the present EU-27 meets its collective Kyoto target.

Note that the mostly limited contribution of ‘sinks’ (carbon storage in forests and soils) from Land Use Change and Forestry (so-called LUCF) and possible (but usually limited) corrections in response to the expert reviews in 2010 of the national emissions inventories have not been included here

United States

Greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, which did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol, increased by 13% since 1990. This may be partly due to the high population growth of about 22% between 1990 and 2008, a growth that is much higher than in other industrialised countries. With the increasing trend up to 2008 – when the credit crisis had its impact, the United States will be unable to meet its original reduction target of 6%. It has implemented climate policies, both nationally and on state level, to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. For example, through increasing energy efficiency, reduction of non-CO2emissions such as methane, and increasing the share of renewable energy such as bioethanol. The US share in global greenhouse gas emissions is approximately equal to that of all other OECD-1990 countries together.

If the United States would have joined the other industrialised countries in setting an official emissions target as described in the Kyoto Protocol, the reduction percentage for the group in total would have been 5.1% (see figure below). When including the United States in the group calculation and using the same linearly extrapolation of the trend in the years between 2002 and 2007, then the average collective emission reduction within the Kyoto target period is approximately one per cent below the group’s original 5.1% target. When including the contribution from projects under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) that are currently used for meeting Kyoto targets (including a virtual reduction percentage for the United States), in total 300 megatonnes CO2 equivalent per year, the total reduction may even be somewhat larger (bulleted line in figure below).

Figure: line graph of greenhouse gas emissions of Kyoto Protocol countries. (excl. LULUCF) (UNFCCC 2010)

Which are the top-25 CO2 or GHG emitting countries?

Below estimates for CO2 emissions in 1990, 2000 and 2010 from fossil- fuel use and other sources, such as cement production (but excluding forest and peat fires and forest sinks), have been ranked for the top -25 CO2 emitting countries, including the EU-15 (the 15 member states that formed the European Union when the Kyoto Protocol was ratified by the EU) and the EU-27 (present EU composition) (Figure 1). To put these emissions into perspective, also the per-capita emissions of these countries have been provided as well as their emissions per US$ of Gross Domestic Product GDP for 1990, 2000 and 2010 (see Figures 2 and 3).

The top Top-25 comprises over 80% of global total CO2 emissions in 2010 (excluding forest and peat fires and biomass decomposition) and of global total greenhouse gas emissions in 2008 (including forest fires but excluding forest sinks). For the seven largest greenhouse gas emitting countries, their share in global total CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions as well as their per-capita CO2 emissions are shown below.

Table 1. Estimates of shares (percentages) in global greenhouse gas and CO2 emissions for the Top-7 emitting countries.
  Greenhouse gas share CO2 share
Country 1990 2000 2008 1990 2000 2010
China 10 13 21 11 14 27
United States 17 18 14 22 23 16
European Union (EU-27) 15 13 11 19 16 12
Russian Federation 9 7 5 11 7 5
India 4 5 5 3 4 6
Indonesia 3 4 4 1 1 1
Brazil 4 4 3 1 1 1
Japan 3 3 3 5 5 4
Table 2. Estimates CO2 emissions per capita in 1990, 2000 and 2010 for the top-7 emitting countries (in tonne CO2/person)
Countries CO2/cap 1990 CO2/cap 2000 CO2/cap 2010
United States 19.7 20.8 16.9
Russian Federation 16.5 11.3 12.2
Japan 9.5 10.1 9.2
EU-27 9.2 8.5 8.1
China 2.2 2.9 6.8
Brazil 1.5 2.0 2.2
Indonesia 0.9 1.4 1.9
India 0.8 1.0 1.5

See notes on tables at bottom of page.

For a list of all countries and their CO2 and total greenhouse gas emissions in 2008 see the EDGAR website

Figure 1: Top-25 CO2-emitting countries (emissions from fossil use and cement production) 1990, 2000 and 2010 (PBL); Top 3: China, USA, EU27

Figure 1: Top-25 CO2-emitting countries

to the data of the Top-25 CO2-emitting countries(descriptions in Dutch).

Figure 2: CO2 emissions from fossil duel use and cement production per capita of the Top-25 countries Figure 1: Top-25 CO2-emitting countries (emissions from fossil use and cement production) 1990, 2000 and 2010 (PBL); Top 3 of 2010: Australia, USA, Canada

Figure 2: CO2 per capita of the Top-25 countries

Figure 3: CO2 per US$ of GDP of the Top-25 countries Figure 2: CO2 emissions from fossil duel use and cement production per capita of the Top-25 countries Figure 1: Top-25 CO2-emitting countries (emissions from fossil use and cement production) 1990, 2000 and 2010 (PBL); Top 3 of 2010: Ukraine, China, Russia

Figure 3: CO2 per US$ of GDP of the Top-25 countries

Notes to Tables and figures

  • Share in global total GHG including forest fires and international transport, excluding forest sinks and using the IPCC 2006 methodology.
  • Source: EDGAR 4.2, EC-JRC/PBL, 2011: IEA publication 2010:CO2 from fuel combustion.
  • Share in global total CO2 excluding forest fires, including international transport.
  • PBL publication 2011: Long term trend in global CO2 emissions; 2011 report

What is thermohaline circulation?

Thermohaline circulation is a global ocean circulation pattern that distributes water and heat both vertically, through the water column, and horizontally across the globe. As cold, salty water sinks at high latitudes, it pulls warmer water from lower latitudes to replace it. Water that sinks in the North Atlantic flows down to the southern hemisphere, skirts the Antarctic continent, where it is joined by more sinking water, and then crosses south of the Indian Ocean to enter the Pacific Ocean basin. There, the cold deep water rises to the surface, where heat from the tropical sun warms the water at the ocean's surface and drives evaporation, leaving behind saltier water. This warm, salty water flows northward to join the Gulf Stream, traveling up the Eastern coast of the United States and across the Atlantic Ocean into the North Atlantic region. There, heat is released to the atmosphere, warming parts of Western Europe. Once this warm, salty water reaches the North Atlantic and releases its heat, it again becomes very cold and dense, and sinks to the deep ocean.

What is "abrupt climate change”?

The term "abrupt climate change" describes changes in climate that occur over the span of years to decades, compared to the human-caused changes in climate that are occurring over the time span of decades to centuries. From ice cores, ocean sediments, tree rings, and other records of Earth's past climate, scientists have found that changes in climate have occurred quickly in the past—over the course of a decade. An example of an abrupt climate change event is the Younger Dryas (~12,000 years ago), a period of abrupt cooling that interrupted a general warming trend as Earth emerged from the last Ice Age. During the Younger Dryas period, average summertime temperatures in New England cooled by about 3-4°C. This and other abrupt events have been linked to changes in an ocean circulation pattern known as thermohaline circulation.

How can global warming make things cooler?

As we rapidly increase Earth's average temperature, some regions, such as high latitudes, will experience greater warming than others, such as the tropics. As warming alters ocean and atmosphere circulation patterns, some regions could even experience cooling. Much of Western Europe is now warmed by ocean circulation as well as the atmosphere. Heat is transported to the region by a global ocean circulation pattern variably known as thermohaline circulation, the North Atlantic heat pump, or the "Great Ocean Conveyor Belt." This "heat pump" pulls warm salty water northward from the tropics into the North Atlantic, where heat is released, warming air temperatures over Europe. As Earth warms, melting of ice caps and glaciers, increased precipitation and other inflows of fresh water to the North Atlantic Ocean may weaken or shut down thermohaline circulation. This change in ocean circulation could disrupt the transfer of heat northward from the tropics, resulting in cooling in the North Atlantic region. Regional cooling of as much as 8-16°C has been seen in the past climate record. However, any regional cooling would be superimposed on the global warming that is already underway. Contrary to the "Day After Tomorrow" dramatization, abrupt climate change will not result in an ice age, because the cooling effects are regional and Earth is currently in an interglacial, or warm, period.

What is at stake in Copenhagen?

During the 2007 UN Climate Change conference in Bali, Indonesia, all participating countries agreed on the Bali Action Plan, and with that came the working conditions for the negotiations leading up to COP15 in Copenhagen. In this light, the increased focus was partly on taking quick action on the latest IPCC report. It was also partly a growing acknowledgement of the fact that 2009 represents the more or less last chance for achieving an agreement, if this agreement is to be approved and ratified in time to come into force directly after the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.

It is important that a deal be clinched this year, since the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol – the existing legally binding agreement which governs carbon emissions – expires in 2012. In order to take humankind into a sustainable and equitable future, an ambitious new deal needs to be agreed on this year, so that national governments have time to prepare for implementation beyond 2012, following this first phase.

The purpose of an ambitious and effective international climate change deal is to avoid catastrophic climate change and to help the most vulnerable countries to adapt. The world has only a very narrow window of opportunity to undertake a first dramatic shift towards a low-carbon society and to prevent the worst scenarios of scientists, from enfolding. The UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen this year will be the moment in history for humanity to rise to the challenge.

The Kyoto Protocol was designed as a first small step in the fight against climate change. Copenhagen is meant to be the ambitious and effective political response to what scientists are now saying is required. The Kyoto Protocol places a heavier burden on developed nations than on developing countries, as it recognises that developed countries are principally responsible for the current high levels of greenhouse gas emissions; this principle will also apply to the Copenhagen outcome. The main difference is that the medium-term emission reduction targets for developed countries will have to be in line with what the scientific community has set as a beacon, and will therefore need to be in the range of 25 to 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020. And developing countries must engage in such a way that, in total, worldwide emissions decline by at least 50%, by 2050.

The outcome of the Copenhagen negotiations need not resolve all details, but must provide clarity on four key issues:

  • Clarity on the medium-term emission reduction targets that industrialised countries will commit to. 

  • Clarity on the actions that developing countries could undertake to limit their greenhouse gas emissions. 

  • Define stable and predictable financing to help the developing world reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the inevitable effects of climate. 

  •  Identify institutions that will allow technology and finance to be deployed in a way that treats the developing countries as equal partners in the decision-making process. Copenhagen is meant to result in a post-2012 outcome, as well as in important decisions and start-up finance to immediately kick-start actions on climate change in 2010.

Once the main political issues have been dealt with, and – if need be – the deadline by which the legal agreement must be decided has been set, the question about the legal form of a Copenhagen agreement can be addressed. There are several proposals on the table, including:

  • an amended Kyoto Protocol 

  • a new protocol 

  • a set of individual decisions on how to tackle climate change, starting immediately and post 2012

The outcome of the negotiations can also be a combination of these options. Because the legal form of the agreement is not yet clear, it is appropriate to speak of a ‘deal’.

Source: UNFCCC Fact sheet: 10 frequently asked questions about the Copenhagen deal.

What is the Clean Development Mechanism?

The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) is an arrangement under the Kyoto Protocol allowing industrialised countries with a greenhouse gas reduction commitment (the so-called Annex I countries) to invest in projects in developing countries that reduce emissions as an alternative to more expensive emission reductions in their own countries. A crucial feature of an approved CDM project is that it has established that the planned reductions would not occur without the additional incentive provided by emission reductions credits that are sold, a concept known as ‘additionality’. These ‘certified emission reduction’ (CER) credits, each equivalent to one tonne of CO2, can be counted by industrialised countries for meeting their Kyoto targets.

The CDM allows net global greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced at a lower global cost by financing emission reduction projects in developing countries, where costs are lower than in industrialised countries. In addition, the mechanism stimulates sustainable development and emission reductions, while giving industrialised countries some flexibility in how they meet their emission reduction or limitation targets. The CDM is supervised by the CDM Executive Board (CDM EB), that resides under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

More information

What is the EU’s proposal for emission reduction targets by 2020?

In March 2007, the European Union (EU27) decided to adopt a target for reducing its GHG emissions by 20%, compared to 1990 levels, by the year 2020, and declared its willingness to reduce emissions by 30%. This would constitute the EU’s contribution to a global and comprehensive agreement for the period beyond 2012, provided that other Annex I countries commit themselves to comparable emission reductions and that economically more advanced developing countries also contribute proportionally according to their responsibilities and respective capabilities.

By adopting a 20% unilateral target and proposing a 30% target as part of a broader post-2012 agreement, thus indicating the level of commitments that it is willing to adopt, the EU has moved ahead of the proces of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP), and has put pressure on other Annex I countries to follow suit. However, the EU has also agreed to allow its Member States to deviate from the adopted 30% reduction target. Consequently, in its Council Conclusion 37, the EU stresses that ‘the overall target for developed countries must be distributed in a manner that is fair and ensures comparability of efforts’. Criteria such as ability to pay, reduction potential, early action, and population trends, should guide the distribution of the overall target, according to the conclusions.

Note that the reduction targets of 20 and 30% include reductions from CDM projects (representing a maximum of 5 and 10%, respectively), of which credits may be purchased by national governments and by companies that participate in the European Emission Trading Scheme

Which targets have countries proposed for themselves for 2020?

With climate negotiations underway, towards the upcoming Copenhagen climate conference, various developed countries have announced their pledges for national reduction targets for 2020. Table 1 summarises the proposed pledges from the major Annex I countries: low-pledge and high-pledge commitments of individual Annex I countries for the year 2020, based on an informal memorandum of the UNFCCC secretariat published in November 2009. The targets are relative to different base years, but are also displayed against 1990 and 2005, for comparability. Some countries have indicated that their targets include or exclude Land use, Land-Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF), others have not. Here we have excluded LULUCF from all pledges. The aggregated reductions by Annex I countries range from 11 to 19%, relative to 1990 levels, for 2020 (see Table 2). This would be insufficient, according to the IPCC AR4 range of 25 to 40% below 1990 levels, to meet 450 ppm CO2 eq.

Table 1. Information relating to possible quantified emission limitation and reduction objectives (QELROs) of the low-pledge and high-pledge commitments by individual Annex I countries for the year 2020. Source: informal paper of the UNFCCC; update status: 1 December 2009

Table of information relating to possible quantified emission limitation and reduction objectives (QELROs) of the low-pledge and high-pledge commitments by individual Annex I countries for the year 2020.

  • a. The national UNFCCC reported GHG emissions including LULUCF CO2 of 524 Mt CO2 in 2000, therefore, a 25% reduction would lead to 393 Mt COM2, which is about 4% below 1990 levels excluding LULUCF CO2 (416 Mt CO2), and also about 24% below 1990 levels including LULUCF CO2 (516 Mt CO2)
  • b. The European Community envisages a restricted use of the mechanisms for the range of possible QELROs.
  • c. High end is compared to 1990 levels, by recent announcement of new Japanese Government and conditional on Copenhagen agreement
  • d. The LULUCF sector is included according to the existing rules under the Kyoto Protocol. If the rules change, Norway’s national target will change accordingly.
  • e. The Whitehouse, Administration Announces U.S. Emission Target for Copenhagen.

Table 2. Annex I country pledges, harmonised and with reported historical emissions for 1990 and 2005. Source: informal paper of the UNFCCC. Update status: 1 December 2009

Annex I country pledges, harmonised and with reported historical emissions for 1990 and 2005. Source: informal paper of the UNFCCC.

  • Pledges differ in scope and conditionality. The following qualifications apply:
  • Australia: High end is conditional on Copenhagen agreement (450ppm, comparable efforts), including LULUCF and carbon market use (data in the table does not include LULUCF).
  • Belarus: The target of -15% includes 5% credits from LULUCF.
  • Canada: Target relates to domestic emission reductions only, unconditional to Copenhagen agreement, 2006 reference year
  • EU: High end is conditional on Copenhagen agreement (comparable Annex I efforts, adequate DC contributions)
  • Japan: Conditional on Copenhagen agreement
  • New Zealand: Target conditional on Copenhagen agreement (450ppm, comparable efforts), including LULUCF and carbon market use.
  • Russian Federation: Using range indicated by President Medvedev on 18 November 2009. Russia indicated that it is ready to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 25 percent below 1990 levels, if other Annex I countries do the same
  • United States: Based on president’s Obama announcement.

For information on pledges of a number of non-Annex I countries on greenhouse gas emission reductions, see the following links:

Why did Dutch and European climate policymakers choose the long-term target of limiting climate change to a maximum, average global temperature increase of 2 degree Celsius?

In 1992, the international climate change treaty (UNFCCC) was signed in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil). Its main objective was to prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system, in order to protect food production, biodiversity and sustainable economic development. The interferences that were labelled as ‘dangerous’, actually, were social choices, with scientific knowledge concerning the risks playing an important role. The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), the most important international scientific platform for assessing the state of climate research, collates this knowledge and publishes periodic reports on its analyses. The third IPCC assessment report (published in 2001) estimated that the temperature increase by the end of this century, without climate policy, would be between 1.5 and 6 °C, depending on the socio-economic developments and the uncertainties in the models used.

According to the IPCC, the temperature on earth has risen by 0.6 to 0.7 °C since the preindustrial era. The effects thereof are already visible in different places around the world, including the Netherlands. Studies indicate that the consequences of climate change will increase with further temperature increases. Although there are still considerable uncertainties, the expectation is that, initially, sensitive ecosystems (such as coral reefs) or local systems (food supply) could be negatively affected. Further temperature increase is likely to lead to larger impacts, including the melting of Arctic sea ice and parts of the Greenland Ice Sheet, with an associated significant rise in sea level, negative influences on worldwide food production, or the collapse of the thermohaline circulation (the large-scale ocean circulation also referred to as the ‘global ocean conveyor belt’).

Studies show that the greatest negative effects of climate change are to be expected in developing countries. These countries are the most vulnerable to climate change due to their high dependence on climate-sensitive economic sectors, such as agriculture, the lack of facilities and structures to anticipate extreme weather situations, and the limited resilience as a result of low income levels. Based partly on such insights, the Netherlands and the EU have chosen to aim at limiting the average temperature increase on earth to a maximum of 2 °C, compared to the pre-industrial level. This objective should be seen as a political decision, based on the risks of climate change and the opportunities for preventing climate change. Since 1996, this objective has formed the cornerstone of climate policy undertaken by the EU and its Member States and, in 2005, was reconfirmed by the EU government leaders. This objective, therefore, has also been selected as a starting point for several analyses conducted by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, that show which opportunities are available to ensure that the 2 °C objective is met, both worldwide and at the regional level, as well as the costs and benefits of such a policy.

What is the Adaptation Fund?

The Adaptation Fund is established to finance concrete adaptation projects and programmes in developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change. The fund is financed with the proceeds from a 2% share in certified emission reduction credits generated by clean development mechanism (CDM) projects in developing countries, which are used by industrialised countries as a means to meet their targets, together with voluntary contributions.

The scale of funding under the Adaptation Fund for post 2012 depends on the continuation of the CDM and the level of demand in the carbon market. Assuming a share of proceeds for an adaptation of 2% continues to apply after 2012, the level of funding could be hundreds of millions of euros per year by 2030, if there is a low demand by Annex I Parties for credits from non-Annex I Parties. This amount could increase to up to 4 billion euros per year, if demand by Annex I Parties is high.

The Global Environment Facility (GEF) provides secretariat services to its operating entity, the Adaptation Fund Board, and the World Bank serves as the trustee of the Adaptation Fund. Both do so on an interim basis.

What is REDD?

REDD is the UN collaborative programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in developing countries. According to the FAO, deforestation, mainly from conversion of forests to agricultural land, continues at an alarming rate of approximately 13 million hectares per year (for the 1990-2005 period). Deforestation results in an immediate release of the carbon originally stored in the trees as CO2 emissions (with small amounts of CO and CH4), particularly if the trees are burned, and in the slower release of emissions from the decay of organic matter. The IPCC Working Group III (2007) estimated emissions from deforestation in the 1990s to be 5.8 Gt CO2/yr. The IPCC also noted that reducing and/or preventing deforestation is the mitigation option with the largest and most immediate carbon stock impact, in the short term, per hectare and per year, globally, as the release of carbon as emissions into the atmosphere is prevented. A recently published study concluded that present emissions from deforestation may be somewhat lower than estimated by the IPCC, but that CO2 emissions from tropical peatlands add approximately ¼ to the deforestation emissions.