AI loopholes

10 December 2009

Those of us who don’t like playing Russian roulette with the planet are looking for aggregate developed country targets greater than -40% from 1990 levels by 2020. In that light, the nominal pledges from developed countries, adding up to a humble 13-19%, look quite bad. But if one includes loopholes that could still make their way into the final deal, they look still worse. You may think you can fool the public with creative accounting, but you definitely can’t fool the atmosphere.

Sadly, ECO concludes that when loopholes are used to the fullest extent, aggregate developed country pledges allow their emissions to increase from 1990 levels by 2020. Even partial use of these loopholes results in a terrible outcome for the planet.

  • Full banking and use of ‘hot air’ (surplus AAUs) from the first and second commitment periods may add up to an extra 6% of the Annex I aggregate emissions to the atmosphere, according to several studies.
  • Creative free-for-all LULUCF accounting may add another 5% to the atmosphere, in line with several studies.
  • Emissions from aviation and shipping are currently just a footnote to Annex I national totals, but they are certainly seen by the atmosphere. These emissions are best tackled through a global cap, but if this is not achieved they will continue to rise, requiring deeper cuts elsewhere to keep the climate safe. If we don’t get a global agreement, the expected overall increase in bunker emissions until 2020 would add a further 6% to developed country emissions in 2020.

With these loopholes, the atmosphere sees 17% more in 2020 than the nominal pledges suggest, leaving an aggregate of -2% to +4% over 1990. But there’s more. Developed countries plan to meet a significant portion of their reductions through offsets, between 1.1 and 1.5 Gt, according to ECO’s estimates – equivalent to 6-8% of 1990 emissions. So domestic developed country emissions may even exceed 10% above 1990 levels in 2020. If, as under the CDM, non-additional projects make up a substantial part of the offsets (ECO has seen studies quoting a range from 40% to 79%), this further undermines the effectiveness of the targets.

If these loopholes are not closed, the gap between what’s needed for a stable climate and current developed country pledges widens into a mighty chasm.

ECO is pleasantly surprised, though, to learn that the EU has beaten us to it and has been shining a light on Annex I loopholes in Kyoto Protocol discussions yesterday. Whatever next, a move to a 40% cut?

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