June 2, 2015

UCS Report Analyzes U.S., E.U. and Mexico Emission Reduction Targets

WASHINGTON (June 2, 2015) – As countries prepare to finalize a climate agreement in Paris this coming December, countries including the United States and the European Union are releasing intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs), country specific action plans that outline how they intend to reduce global warming emissions. An analysis from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) evaluated how the INDCs from the U.S., the E.U and Mexico address land use emissions, including those from agriculture and forestry. UCS found that the US and EU INDCs fall short in describing what they will do to reduce land use emissions, but that Mexico’s contribution ambitiously addresses emissions from this sector.

“With land use sector emissions accounting for 25 percent of all global warming pollution, it is essential that countries with the potential to reduce emissions in this sector – like the U.S., E.U., and Mexico – clearly commit to doing so in their INDCs,” said Doug Boucher, director of UCS’s Tropical Forest and Climate Initiative. “If we want to stay under two degrees temperature increase, then we need to tackle emissions on all fronts, including the land use sector.

The report, “The Land Sector in the First INDCs: Intended Climate Contributions of the United States, the European Union, and Mexico,” examined and compared the INDCs in terms of transparency, ambition, accounting standards and proposed actions.

This analysis follows up on an earlier UCS report, “Halfway There?,” which found that of the eight countries that make up 57 percent of all land use emissions, the United States has the greatest potential for emission reductions in the land use sector. Unfortunately, the U.S. INDC does not include actions to address emissions from agriculture and forestry.

Another area for concern within the U.S. INDC is language suggesting that the U.S. plans to exclude emissions from natural disturbances. This exclusion clause could create perverse incentives against improving forest management.

“It is disappointing to see the U.S. neglect to address emissions from agriculture and forestry – especially when the potential for reductions is so considerable,” said Boucher.

The E.U. INDC similarly does not contain action or mitigation plans to address land use emissions, but includes vague language referencing land use emissions. The E.U. INDC mentions that policies on how to include land use emissions will be established as soon as “technical conditions allow.” The INDC does not however go into detail about what these technical conditions are or why they are preventing the E.U. from planning to reduce land use emissions.

This is despite the fact that a recent E.U. study found that small dietary changes to eliminate some high emissions foods, such as beef, could reduce agricultural emissions by 28 percent. Again, the potential to realize emissions reductions from the land use sector is being overlooked.

“While the U.S. and the E.U. INDCs are cause for concern, Mexico’s emissions reduction target genuinely addresses the land use sector,” said Boucher. “Mexico is a true leader in this sense.”

Mexico’s plans specifically mention action to reduce deforestation to zero by 2030, increase reforestation, restore ecosystems, and improve agricultural sustainability. As a developing country, Mexico only has so many resources to implement this action plan without foreign assistance. The country pledged to reduce pollution by 25 percent on its own and by 40 percent if offered international financing.

“Emissions from land use represent a significant piece of the problem and must be addressed if the world is to avoid the worst impacts of climate change,” said Boucher. “Moving forward, the U.S. and the E.U. should take a page from the Mexico playbook and amend their INDCs to account for land use emissions.”

The Union of Concerned Scientists puts rigorous, independent science to work to solve our planet's most pressing problems. Joining with people across the country, we combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.