Less than a week before the United Nations deadline for countries to file greenhouse-gas pledges necessary to keep a global climate change deal on track, it looks like most of the world is missing in action.
Ahead of the March 31 target, only the European Union and Switzerland have unveiled plans, representing about 10 percent of global emissions. The U.S. has promised to hit the deadline. The rest of the world’s major economies, including China, India, Australia and Japan, are unlikely to complete submissions in time, according to environmental groups tracking UN climate talks.
More than 190 nations are scheduled to meet in Paris in December to craft an international deal aimed at slowing global warming. Countries may be holding off on individual plans as long as possible to see what others are doing and to shrink the time for negotiation on their own programs, suggested Wai-Shin Chan, a strategist at HSBC Holdings Plc.
“There’s a bit of a waiting game going on,” Chan said by telephone from Hong Kong. Delaying “doesn’t really give other countries much time to scrutinize and assess, and say ‘We’ll do more if you do more.’”
The holdup shows the obstacles facing negotiators as they seek a plan to avoid catastrophic global warming. The UN wants the plans to be submitted well before the meeting to avoid a last-minute pile-up like the that one that sank the talks in Copenhagen in 2009.
“It’s very important that as many major economies as possible share their offers early,” said Jennifer Morgan, director of climate programs at the World Resources Institute, a Washington-based advocacy group.
The proposals come in what the UN calls intended nationally determined contributions, or INDCs. They’re supposed to contain voluntary measures for each nation to pare back fossil-fuel use, accelerate renewable energy and adapt to rising seas and other measures.
Negotiators in Warsaw in 2013 agreed to submit pledges by the end of the first quarter of 2015 for “those parties ready to do so,” a phrase signaling the date wasn’t a hard deadline. The UN can analyze the submissions made until Oct. 1.
“It seems difficult to understand why a major economy would not be ready,” Franz Perrez, the Swiss climate envoy, said by e-mail. “This would clearly undermine the trust in partners.”
The Paris agreement would be the first to wrest commitments from all nations. It’s intended to build on the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which required pollution reductions only in industrialized nations and set no limits for developing ones like China and India, where emissions have skyrocketed.
“Most of the developed countries were insisting in the course of negotiations to have this deadline, but many of them are now faltering,” said Quamrul Chowdhury, Bangladesh’s envoy at the talks. Bangladesh expects to complete its work within a couple of months.
The discussions will remain on track as long as details are available by June or July, said Jake Schmidt, director of international programs at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“Whether or not these countries propose something strong sends a signal about how serious they are,” he said by phone.
The European Union’s program submitted March 6 calls for a 40 percent cut in greenhouse gases below 1990 levels by 2030. The Swiss outlined a 50 percent cut.
In a joint statement in November, the U.S. said that it would cut emissions by more than a quarter, and China for the first time said carbon emissions would peak by about 2030.
U.S. officials have said they’re on track to submit a formal pledge this month. China’s lead negotiator Su Wei said in December that a formal submission will be made by mid-2015. The National Development and Reform Commission in Beijing, which coordinates climate policy, didn’t reply to questions submitted by fax.
India, the third-biggest polluter, has discussed submitting plans no earlier than June.
Brazil is working to deliver its filing before October, said Carlos Klink, secretary for climate change at the environment ministry. It has cut emissions 41 percent from 2005 levels and intends to make a 36 percent to 39 percent reduction by 2020. “We will have an ambitious goal for Paris,” he said in an interview. “Brazil has already been aggressive in the last years.”
Japan, Australia and Canada haven’t indicated when they’ll reveal their plans, Schmidt said.
“We cannot comment on the specific timing,” Junya Nakano, an official in charge of climate change at Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Tuesday. “We are taking into account submissions from other countries” and will submit “as soon as possible.”