Countries have agreed: we must limit total warming to 2 degrees Celsius worldwide. They’ve also agreed they will (verb tense is key here) reduce their emissions, which is why they’re submitting their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) in anticipation of the COP21 Paris conference this year.
Some countries, though, don’t like to play by the rules. They like to keep things exciting, keep the public guessing, and add yet another layer of unnecessary complexity to this process: the 2005 Club.
What is the 2005 Club, you ask?
These are countries who have decided they will arbitrarily use 2005 as their benchmark year for greenhouse gas emissions reductions rather than 1990, which is used by scientific reports and is standard for most UNFCCC countries. (1990 was also the same year referenced in the Kyoto Protocol.)
So why would any rational country decide to pick a different year than everyone else? Simply put, it looks good. Greenhouse gas emissions were almost assuredly higher in 2005 than in 1990 for developed countries, so a higher benchmark creates a wonderful repackaging.
Take, for example, the most prominent countries using this benchmark: Canada, Australia, and the United States. Just yesterday, when Canada presented its INDC and took questions as part of the Multilateral Assessment, they mentioned their great, “ambitious but achievable” goal: a 17% reduction of GHG emissions based on 2005 levels by 2020.
A negotiator from South Africa was quick to respond to this statement. A 17% reduction based on 2005 levels is in reality a 3.6% reduction based on 1990 levels. “This is not ambitious,” he said, “but required by science.”
It’s not surprising that the stars of this 2005 Club are developed countries who haven’t exactly had the best track record at these negotiations: Australia, Canada, and the United States. By choosing 2005 as their benchmark year, these countries are not only showing no respect for this process, but are demonstrating that they are committed to framing more than they are to actually doing. Numbers mean nothing if they are not supported by action, and by playing with numbers to make themselves look good countries are telling us they are anything but.
What’s more, Canada’s INDC in particular mentions their reduction goals without shedding light on most of the mechanisms they state they will use to reach them. When pressed to quantify the specific impacts of their various mitigation actions, Canada stated that these “regulations are being developed” and that provinces and territories will be left to carry the burden for these policies. In fact, they alluded to “indirect programs” such as “behavioural changes” that they are counting on to be responsible for emissions reductions. Needless to say, Canada’s ‘promises’, just like the use of a 2005 baseline year, are nothing more than attempts to distract us from the fact that they are far from achieving any progress whatsoever.
On the bright side, Canada has found friends in its quest for the illusion of progress. I guess being in the 2005 Club has its perks.