Tropical forest giants Brazil and Indonesia made less ambitious climate commitments than the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo and other smaller, poorer countries, an analysis released yesterday by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) found.

That discovery is consistent with a trend observed by the environmental group for the climate submissions — known as intended nationally determined contributions, or INDCs — of a dozen forest-centric countries ahead of key U.N. climate change negotiations in Paris beginning this month.

"The DRC is a very poor country, and it has a lot of difficulties in terms of making plans and implementing them, but they did a good job in their INDC," said Doug Boucher, director of UCS's Tropical Forest and Climate Initiative.

The final of three white papers, the report examines how forests and the land-use sector are represented by nations in their INDCs. Submitted by more than 150 nations ahead of the Paris talks, the targets will make up the heart of a new global agreement to rein in greenhouse gas emissions.

The report analyzed each pledge in terms of transparency, ambition and accounting standards, as well as proposed actions in the land-use sector, which includes emissions from agriculture, deforestation and forest degradation, and other land-use activities.

Land-use emissions account for nearly 25 percent of total global emissions, which makes it critical to have accurate information on the sector, Boucher said. As sequesterers of carbon, forests are an important component for helping the world stave off climate change.

As found in previous white papers, it was the smallest country — in this case, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) — that made a strong and specific commitment for tacking land-use-sector emissions.

Brazil, India have far to go
Despite being one of the least developed countries in the world, the African nation, home to the second-largest tract of tropical forest, pledged a 17 percent reduction in emissions by 2030 and specified how much of this will come from each sector and to what extent each goal is contingent on international assistance.

In contrast, the report found Indonesia was vague in how it would address emissions from its land-use sector.

With its vast, carbon-rich peatlands, more than 60 percent of the country's emissions come from the land. This year, an especially bad fire season prompted Indonesia's president, Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, to issue a moratorium on clearing peatlands even in existing agricultural concession areas (ClimateWire, Oct. 26).

The country's climate plan calls for a 29 percent emissions reduction by 2030, or 41 percent if it receives international financing; however, no plan for stopping deforestation was mentioned in the INDC.

Of India's 38-page climate submission, six pages focus on what the country intends to do to reduce its emissions. The country lists a goal of reducing global warming emissions 33 to 35 percent by 2030, but it does not specify how much can be done without international aid.

"Reduction of deforestation and degradation of natural forests is hardly mentioned, even though they still remain a problem despite the country's having made the transition to net reforestation overall," the report notes of India's pledge.

Brazil presented strong emissions reductions numbers, but it was unambitious in its land-use-sector goals, the report charges.

Money demands specificity
Often referred to as the "lungs of the Earth," Brazil is home to the most extensive rainforest on the planet. Its INDC calls for a carbon emissions reduction of 37 percent by 2025 and calls for a halt to illegal deforestation completely by 2030.

Brazil fell flat in terms of what it could do in its forests, Boucher said. He called it ironic, considering that is the sector in which the country has made notable progress. Since 2004, Brazil has cut its rate of deforestation nearly 80 percent. The county has also committed to restoring 12 million hectares (nearly 30 million acres) of forest by 2030.

"The INDC calls for zero illegal deforestation, but they don't say how much is happening now, and the mandate is only for Amazon biome, which is a big one from a climate point of view but leaves out some fairly significant parts of the country that also has some parts of forest," he said.

The first analysis examined the climate commitments submitted by the United States, Mexico and the European Union and found the U.S. INDC does acknowledge the land sector (ClimateWire, June 2).

The second looked at China, Canada, Morocco and Ethiopia and criticized the transparency, ambition and proposed actions of China and Canada (ClimateWire, Sept. 11).

Overall, the third analysis of INDCs solidified a pattern: In many cases, smaller, poorer countries have submitted stronger global commitments, at least in terms of specificity of actions.

Michael Wolosin, managing director of research and policy for Washington, D.C.-based group Climate Advisers, said in his analysis of many of the national climate plans ahead of Paris that he has observed a similar pattern. He said one reason for the disconnect is that smaller nations recognize they will need financial assistance from the international community, and to get that, they need to be specific.

"There's almost a higher threshold and transparency for countries that are needing finance," he said. "There is less need for Brazil to be exactly specific on everything they're going to do, because they're going to self-finance their action."

Still 'falling short' of 2 C
Many nations, including Brazil and United States, put forth pledges based on the existing laws and regulations, Wolosin said. The United States is considering action it can take without Congress, such as emissions reductions from U.S. EPA's Clean Power Plan and vehicle emissions regulations.

Similarly, although Wolosin called Brazil's zero illegal deforestation pledge "serious backsliding and quite weak," he said it would be challenging for the country to set a zero legal deforestation goal, for example, when Brazilian laws allows for some legal deforestation.

Both Boucher and Wolosin stressed that presently, with the climate commitments now in from more than 150 countries, the emissions reductions on the table still are not enough to keep warming below the 2-degree-Celsius threshold agreed upon by the international community.

If every country meets the full extent of its pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions, there will still be as much as 12 billion tons more climate change pollution in the atmosphere by 2030 than there should, the U.N. Environment Programme's "Emissions Gap Report" found earlier this month (ClimateWire, Nov. 6).

"We're falling short in that there's so much variation in terms of what they give in their INDCs, and countries are still feeling free to leave out important numbers and important actions and even whole sectors if they want," Boucher added. "For transparency, for the world to understand what the other countries are planning, we have to hope for some real improvement."

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC., 202-628-6500