What would Japan, Canada and Australia’s targets be if they are as ambitious as the EU or US?

Over a month after the UN’s deadline, Japan, Canada and Australia have still not submitted their emissions targets for Paris. So we used our Low Carbon Economy Index (LCEI) model to calculate the target they’d need in order to show the same level of ambition as the EU and US. Relative ambition or effort will be a critical political issue this year.

We’re not suggesting these are perfect role models, but they provide a useful benchmark. The EU committed to a 40% reduction on 1990 levels by 2030 and the US a 26-28% reduction on 2005 levels by 2025.  We suggested that these targets are roughly equally ambitious, albeit still far short of what is needed for 2 degrees.

Both the EU and US have decarbonised at around 2% per year since the turn of the century and given our GDP projections will need increase this by a further 1.9% to achieve their targets.  That step change in effort implies a degree of policy change and consequently impacts on business.

We applied a similar methodology to Japan, Canada and Australia to calculate what their targets would need to be to match the level of ambition shown by the EU and US. To do this we added the same additional rate of decarbonisation, 1.9% per year, to their historic average decarbonisation rate or business as usual pathway. This is combined with our GDP growth forecasts to determine the level of absolute emissions that would persist in the target year. Our results (compared against the US target) are:

  • Japan: 6% reduction on 2005 levels by 2025
  • Canada: 19% reduction on 2005 levels by 2025
  • Australia: 24% reduction on 2005 levels by 2025

Achieving these targets would result in absolute emissions from those countries in 2030 of 1,200 MtCO2 from Japan(1), 445 MtCO2 from Canada and 249 MtCO2 from Australia.  The fact that these targets appear slightly uninspiring is partly a reflection of the relative lack of ambition in the EU and US.  Also, our projections are driven in part by our GDP growth forecasts and countries with higher GDP growth have to work even harder to decarbonise if they are to limit and ultimately reduce emissions.

Our LCEI model uses historic and projected changes in carbon intensity or emissions per million dollars of GDP to compare countries’ emissions targets.  Looking at carbon intensity puts the challenge of reducing emissions in the context of expected, or hoped for, economic growth.  Atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases will continue to rise if GDP grows faster than carbon intensity falls.

Our LCEI report in 2014 showed that global carbon intensity is falling by around 1% per year, but that this needs to be 6% per year on average to stay within the 2 degrees carbon budget. All these targets fall well short of the 2 degrees goal.

At this stage in the climate talks, it appears that the national targets will be nationally determined (rather than conditional on the actions of others) and that they will not be legally binding.  The current crop of targets highlights the need for the Paris agreement to include a mechanism to raise ambition in future.  The agreement will need to include a process for countries to report on their action, review progress and raise their targets.

(1) Japan’s business as usual trend is based on post-Fukushima decarbonisation rates (2011-2013) up to 2020 and pre-Fukushima (2000 – 2010) rates thereafter.