The United States, China and dozens of other countries accounting for nearly 80% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions have signed onto a voluntary agreement to curb climate change.
If the countries make good on their pledges, they will dramatically reduce the emissions scientists link to global warming, but not enough to hold temperatures to levels scientists say are needed to minimize risks of drought, flooding and other catastrophic effects.
Still, the number of nations signing on, along with the amount they pledged in reductions, buoyed many environmentalists after the December climate summit meeting in Copenhagen.
The 193 countries represented in Copenhagen could not reach agreement on a pact to reduce carbon emissions. They settled instead for a voluntary accord that asks each nation to pledge to reduce them.
“What we now know that we did get out of Copenhagen was clarity of what countries are going to be doing to fight climate change,” said Keya Chatterjee, director of the World Wildlife Fund’s climate change program. The situation is “much better than we had a couple months ago. But it’s still not where we need to be.”
In addition to the United States and China, the two largest emitters of greenhouse gases, the countries that met a Sunday deadline to formally join the Copenhagen Accord include India, Japan and the nations of the European Union, the United Nations announced Monday.
Each nation determined its own target for reducing emissions. Fast-developing countries such as China promised to limit emissions as a share of their growing economies, while wealthy nations such as the United States pledged reductions from historic levels.
The accord has no enforcement provision, though it does require participants to allow international scrutiny of their efforts.
Many of the pledges are contingent: The United States, for example, refuses to set a concrete target until Congress passes a climate bill, and Canada’s pledge is linked to that of the U.S.
Even at their most stringent, the pledges do not meet the accord’s goal of holding warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, climate scientists and environmental groups say.
The list of countries not signing onto the accord includes OPEC nations such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, which environmentalists do not expect to join. Other countries such as Turkey and Malaysia are expected to eventually sign on.
The countries still have major issues to hash out, including how to handle the billions of dollars to be funneled from wealthy nations to poorer ones to help them adapt to climate change and develop cleaner sources of energy.
The Obama administration asked Congress on Monday to allocate $1.4 billion in the 2011 budget for international climate efforts. The administration has pledged to help raise as much as $100 billion annually by 2020.