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Opinion, arguments & analyses from the editors of Scientific American

Majority of world's countries miss Copenhagen Accord deadline

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copenhagen-logoThe bulk of the world's nations ignored a January 31 deadline to submit action plans to combat climate change under the terms of the Copenhagen Accord (pdf). But the majority of the world's greenhouse gas emissions will be affected by commitments that were submitted to the United Nations in recent days, in keeping with the last-minute, non-binding accord hammered out in December.


Among those committed, from most aggressive cuts to least:


Maldives: zero net emissions by 2020

Japan: 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020

European Union: at least 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 (individual country details yet to be agreed)

New Zealand: at least 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2020

U.S.: 4 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 (pending legislation)

Australia: at least 3 percent below 1990 levels and as much as 23 percent below them (depending on other country's commitments)

Canada: 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 (i.e. a 2.5 percent rise from 1990 levels)

China: reduce carbon intensity by at least 40 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 ("voluntary" goal)

India: reduce carbon intensity by at least 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 (aspirational target)

U.S.: 4 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 (pending legislation)


Also joining the cause, according to the U.S. Climate Action Network, were countries ranging from Bangladesh to Peru—with only Cuba writing to express absolute opposition to the Copenhagen Accord. Fifty-five countries out of 193 formally indicated targets under the accord, including 20 developing countries. U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change Executive Director Yvo de Boer had earlier called the January 31 deadline a "soft" one.


It also remains unclear what might happen with funding promised at Copenhagen by developed countries to help developing countries combat climate change—some $30 billion to be allocated by 2013 and $100 billion a year from 2020.


Nevertheless, "following a month of uncertainty, it is now clear that the Copenhagen Accord will support the world in moving forward to meaningful action on climate change," said Jennifer Morgan, director of the World Resources Institute's climate and energy program, in a prepared statement. But "the commitments are far below what is needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change."

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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