Climate Change Deadlines are Approaching for Many Countries - are They on Track?
It has been 5 years since 197 countries committed to the Paris Agreement, a legally binding pledge to limit the increase of global warming to ‘well below 2 degrees Celsius’ compared to pre-industrial levels. Under this agreement, each signatory submits its own ambitious national plan transparently, setting targets and rolling out credible policies for reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions. Although the world committed itself in principal to tackling climate change, in practice, that ambition has not led to the desired outcome. This raises some questions regarding how some countries will overcome the challenge. This article will discuss the success and failures of some government administrations.
While most of the world remains firmly committed to the notion of tackling climate change, many are not on pace to meet their relatively modest Paris pledges. The Climate Action Tracker (CAT) covers all the biggest emitters and a representative sample of smaller emitters. Countries such as Morocco, The Gambia, Costa Rica and the European Union have all taken similar actions in order to stick to their pledges and progress towards the target goals. Morocco has invested in the largest concentrated solar farm in the world which will generate enough electricity to power Marrakesh twice over. The Gambia’s principal pathway is different to Morocco’s. It aims to restore ecological biodiversity; replace flooded rice paddies with dry upland rice fields; and promote the adoption of efficient cook stoves to reduce the overuse of forest resources. Costa Rica has made it a national priority to mainstream renewable energy across its roads and rails. Additionally, the National Plan for Electric Transportation calls for at least 5% of the bus fleet to be replaced by electric buses every two years and for at least 10% of new taxi concessions to be given to electric vehicles. The country also extended a moratorium on oil extraction and exploitation from 2021 until end of 2050. The EU was a comparatively an early adopter of climate targets: from as early as 2009, they pledged a 20% reduction of emissions by 2020. The EU formally adopted into law a series of measures that included a binding target for 32% of electricity production to come from renewables by 2030. National contributions to this target can be seen across the EU, with Malta adopting 10% renewables and Sweden 49% (Mulvaney, 2019).
Meanwhile, some countries are still keeping their promises but progressing at a gradual rate.
Norway has set an ambitious target of reducing emissions by 40% by 2030. The parliament agreed in June 2019 to reverse its investment of $1 trillion Sovereign Wealth Fund investment in oil, gas, and coal, forsaking $13 billion in stocks for fossil fuel and diverting resources to renewable energy projects. Norway leads the world in electric vehicles; so-called battery electric vehicles (BEV) made up 60% of all new cars sold in 2020. Besides that, Norwegian forests are recovering on sustainable yield during the past decades as policymakers are making drastic fundamental societal changes required to form a fossil fuel-free bioeconomy, measured by National Forest Inventory (NFI).
Elsewhere, large economies are progressing at a gradual rate, not for a lack of action, but instead, due to their pursuit of contradictory goals. China’s greenhouse gas emissions – the largest in the world – grew an estimated 2.3% in 2018 and are projected to rise until at least 2030. The stages to reach ambitious targets are critically insufficient. The Chinese government heavily subsidized the manufacture of electric cars and on top of that, Chinese consumers bought 1.1 million electric vehicles – more than the rest of the world combined. China is the largest manufacturer of solar technology in the world, but it is also the largest consumer of coal, as well as financing the construction of coal-fired power stations around the world. UK is also an interesting case. The country has reduced its emissions by 44% since 1990 until 2020, even as its economy grew by 75%. The UK government has also declared a climate emergency, and passed legislation codifying a goal of net zero emissions by 2050. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has also publicly released a “10-point green plan” to meet its legally binding net zero emissions target by 2050. (Lombrana et al., 2019 ; Mulvana, 2019) .
While numerous countries keep their promises, some countries are failing to combat Paris targets with resilience strategies. Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States are all prime examples of this. Russia is the fourth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases and the only large emitter that has yet to affirm the Paris Agreement. The Russian government has not adopted a low-carbon economic development strategy, with President Vladimir Putin against the complete abandonment of nuclear and hydrocarbon energy. This has led to a rise in the country’s greenhouse gas emissions to increase from 6% to 24% in 2020 and will continue to increase another 22% by 2030. Saudi Arabia has decided to slow down the phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies to ‘enhance the economy’. They also maintain a get-out clause for its Paris Agreement targets if it decides the agreement places an ‘abnormal burden’ on the economy by reducing income from fossil fuels. The Climate Action Tracker (CAT) estimates that their current plan is likely to result in an 80% increase in greenhouse gas emissions of by 2030. Although Turkey has committed to invest $11 billion in energy efficiency measures, they are seeking to achieve this through a massive expansion in coal-fired power plants. The full scale of this plan includes 80 new plants - equivalent to the capacity of the UK’s entire energy sector. Corporacion Andina de Fomento (CAF) has rated Turkey’s Paris targets as “critically insufficient”, because it is not in line with holding warming below 2 °C. This means that if most other countries followed Turkey’s approach, global warming will exceed 3-4°C. (Demis and Mooney, 2018).
The CAT has already ranked the US Paris targets as ‘critically ill equipped’, which President Trump only exacerbated through withdrawing from the Paris Agreement. Publicly, Trump has called climate change a hoax and has continued to put economic growth above Paris targets, arguing that climate and other environmental regulations were harming employment levels. Meanwhile, in 2020 carbon dioxide levels reached 417 parts per million, the highest level recorded in human history. Under Trump administration, the US has become a net exporter of both oil and natural gas, surpassing Saudi Arabia and Russia as the world’s largest oil producer. He also ended a moratorium on new leases for coal production and attempted to open most coastal waters to offshore oil and gas drilling. Furthermore, the President issued an executive order early in his tenure to reduce regulatory barriers to oil, natural gas, and coal development as well as expediting the approval process for liquidified natural gas exports (Welch and Gibbens, 2020, Davenport, 2020).
An observation that seems consistent across different countries is that, while there are broad majorities in favour of more ambitious climate change mitigation in general, the support for concrete measures is insufficient. The resulting acceleration of climate change will weigh heavily on government budgets, which will be especially disastrous for developing countries and is likely to deepen existing inequalities. Mitigation measures such as carbon pricing also have potential negative effects for the poor, particularly in industrialised countries (Ragans, 2020). A government’s ability to address inequalities, both those created by climate change itself and those created by policy action to contain it, may be a determining factor regarding the future success of their administration. Policymakers need to capitalize on policy features other than emissions reductions and actively highlight economic, social and health co-benefits of climate policies. Countries engaging in resource and information sharing should be encouraged to enhance collaboration by developing specific bilateral or regional agreements. Exclusive membership models can be a stabilising factor and bring superior environmental outcomes for international environmental agreements. Thus, the scientific evidence is unequivocal and demands an urgent global response.
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Demis, B. and Mooney, C. (2018) ‘We are in trouble.’ Global carbon emissions reached a record high in 2018 [Online]. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/energy-environment/2018/12/05/we-are-trouble-global-carbon-emissions-reached-new-record-high/ (Accessed: 14 November 2020)
Davenport, C. (2020) What Will Trump’s Most Profound Legacy Be? Possibly Climate Damage [Online]. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/09/climate/trump-legacy-climate-change.html (Accessed: 14 November 2020)
Welch, C. and Gibbens, S. (2020) Trump vs. Biden on the environment – here’s where they stand [Online]. Available at: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2020/10/trump-vs-biden-environment-heres-where-they-stand/ (Accessed: 14 November 2020)
Lombrana, L.M., Shankleman, J., Hodges, J. (2020) What Does Boris Johnson Really Think About Climate Change? [Online]. Available at: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-02-05/what-does-boris-johnson-really-think-about-climate-change (Accessed: 20 November 2020)
Ragans, H. (2020) Must we Keep the Developing World ‘Underdeveloped’ to Avoid Catastrophic Climate Change? [Online]. Available at: https://www.dues.org.uk/single-post/must-we-keep-the-developing-world-underdeveloped-to-avoid-catastrophic-climate-change (Accessed: 22 February 2021)