It is less than a third developed countries have achieved between 1990 and 2011

The developed countries have committed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by a paltry three per cent from 2011 to 2020, according to a new data analysis by the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

It is less than a third of the emission cuts the rich countries have achieved between 1990 and 2011.

The UNFCCC Secretariat carried out a technical review of the commitments the rich countries have made to emission cuts between now and 2020. The review shows that the countries have collectively committed themselves to a reduction of only 13-19 per cent by the 1990 levels. This falls far short of the 25-40 per cent reduction expected of the developed countries so as to keep temperatures from rising more than two degrees above the pre-industrial era — a tipping point that leads to dangerous climate change consequences.

It is likely that the developed countries will only achieve the lower limit. They have predicated their taking the higher range of cuts on developing countries setting targets for themselves, the chances of which are almost zero.

The UNFCCC analysis shows that the EU, which has always projected itself as a leader on the issue, has set such a low target for 2020 that it has almost achieved it. It had committed to cut emissions down by 20 per cent below the 1990 levels. But, by 2011, it had achieved an 18 per cent cut.

The U.S., which has the highest accumulated emissions and the highest per capita emissions in the world, increased emissions by eight per cent between 1990 and 2011 because it refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol. Now it has committed to cut emissions by five per cent from the 1990 levels by 2020.

The analysis also warns that it is difficult to figure out how much of these emission reduction actions will be executed by the developed countries as many have not explained or clarified their dependence on offsets — buying credits for work done to cut emissions in the developing world.

The UNFCCC negotiations have been running on two tracks. One is to press the countries to take higher emission cuts between now and 2020 so as to prevent the atmosphere from accumulating higher levels of emissions. The second is meant to deliver a new deal by 2015, which will put in place a formula for all to cut emissions from 2020.

While the U.S. has made it clear that it will not increase its target to cut carbon dioxide emissions in the pre-2020 period, the EU has made it conditional on countries such as China and India taking on commitments right away.

With the carbon space being limited and almost two-thirds occupied by the developed world, the low commitments of the rich world at present promise to push the developing world to take on a higher level of reduction post-2020.