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Analysis in the journal Nature: ‘No major advanced industrialized country is on track to meet’ UN Paris pledges

Prove Paris was more than paper promises

David G. VictorKeigo AkimotoYoichi KayaMitsutsune YamaguchiDanny Cullenward Cameron Hepburn


All major industrialized countries are failing to meet the pledges they made to cut greenhouse-gas emissions, warn David G. Victor and colleagues.

“Beyond US President Donald Trump’s decision in June to withdraw the United States from the 2015 Paris climate agreement, a more profound challenge to the global climate pact is emerging. No major advanced industrialized country is on track to meet its pledges to control the greenhouse-gas emissions that cause climate change. Wishful thinking and bravado are eclipsing reality. Countries in the European Union are struggling to increase energy efficiency and renewable power to the levels that they claimed they would. Japan promised cuts in emissions to match those of its peers, but meeting the goals will cost more than the country is willing to pay. Even without Trump’s attempts to roll back federal climate policy, the United States is shifting its economy to clean energy too slowly.”

“Emission rates are falling in almost all advanced industrialized countries. But the declines are too slow to meet the pledges that governments made in Paris (see ‘Climate shortfall’).”

“Climate change is an issue of huge public interest, especially in countries in which governments feel they must be seen to lead on global solutions. It is easy for politicians to make promises to impatient voters and opposition parties. But it is hard to impose high costs on powerful, well-organized groups. No system for international governance can erase these basic political facts. Yet the Paris agreement has unwittingly fanned the flames by letting governments set such vague and unaccountable pledges.”

U.S.: In 2015, the administration of former president Barack Obama pledged to cut emissions in the United States to 26–28% below 2005 levels by the year 2025. Yet the country was probably only ever on track to cut its emissions by 15–19%. The energy markets are, of their own accord, substituting natural gas for coal; and policies that push renewable energy and energy efficiency are playing a part3. The assumptions about maximal carbon sequestration from forestry, which the US government submitted to the secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, can best be described as heroic. Even when these are combined with optimistically low assumptions about energy demand and the cost of clean energy, emissions are likely to decline, at most, to 23% below 2005 levels by 2025. Under Trump, the gap between what was promised and what will be achieved has widened as the federal government seeks to revoke the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, to roll back limits on the emission of the potent greenhouse gas methane and to reverse energy-efficiency policies. Many companies, cities and states in the United States have vowed to keep cutting emissions but, for now, most of those are still just claims.

Japan: Japan pledged to cut emissions by a similar percentage to the United States: 26% below 2013 levels by the year 2030. But the Japanese economy is already more efficient than that of the United States — each dollar equivalent of economic output in Japan requires 40% less energy, according to the International Energy Agency. Making an efficient system even more frugal will require a massive effort. The costs of meeting Japan’s pledge are high…In addition, the Japanese government is unlikely to meet its aim to supply 20–22% of electricity from carbon-free nuclear power by 2030; our analysis suggests that 15% is more likely. Today, just 5 of the country’s 42 nuclear reactors are producing electricity. Efforts to restart more are mired in political and regulatory issues in the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear-reactor disaster.

The EU: The EU also faces a big gap between words and actions. Progress is being made through the region’s emissions trading scheme (ETS), which should enable the power and industrial sectors to cut their greenhouse-gas emissions by 43% below 2005 levels by 2030 (see As in the United States, most of this will come from switching from coal to gas, rather than constructing new renewable-energy or nuclear plants, or carbon capture and storage facilities.

Australia: In Australia, for example, a June 2017 review into the future security of the country’s electricity market recommended weak cuts to emissions that would make the overall Paris commitments difficult to meet.

Mexico & South Korea: Mexico and South Korea have introduced schemes that levy charges on those who use energy and emit carbon dioxide, and other policies aimed at increasing energy efficiency and the adoption of cleaner energy. But emissions are not changing much in either country, calling their pledges into question.