The 2015 Paris Agreement committed each of its 195 state signatories to pledge Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs); in other words, what they will individually do to reduce or limit their greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 or 2030.
Instead, an analysis published by Climate Action Tracker estimates that the current NDC pledges for 2030 are consistent with a global emissions pathway that would lead to a world that is 2.4°C warmer on average at the end of the century than it was at pre-industrial levels. This is far from being in line with the Paris Agreement, which aims to limit warming to well below 2°C and pursue best efforts to keep it to 1.5°C.
The Paris Agreement explicitly requires each country to revise its pledge and increase its ambition every five years, effectively creating what is called a ‘ratchet mechanism’. Countries agreed at the Paris summit in 2015 to submit revised NDCs by 2021 at the latest, at the 26th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP26), which was held in Glasgow, UK, and was postponed from its original date of 2020 due to COVID-19.
Countries were expected to pledge new and more ambitious NDCs ahead of COP26, bringing their actual plans for emissions reductions by 2030 into line with the targets of the Paris Agreement. However, as the Climate Action Tracker analysis shows, countries’ pledges for 2030 still amount to 2.4°C warming. To close this gap, COP26 ended with plans being made for countries to return at COP27 and update their NDC pledges again, rather than wait the originally planned five years.
More and more countries are setting targets for reaching net-zero emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. Sweden and Norway were some of the first countries to legally commit to net-zero targets, and the UK was the first of the G7 major economies to do so with a commitment to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, closely followed by France.
In 2020, China committed to reaching carbon neutrality by 2060, while South Korea and Japan committed to net zero emissions by 2050. Chile and Fiji are also among the countries to have proposed net zero targets, which are pending legislation.
Reaching these targets, however, is a different matter entirely. For example, the UK has set a target for net zero emissions by 2050 but is currently not set to meet its emission reduction targets for the periods 2023-27 and 2028-2032 respectively. While emissions in the UK power sector have reduced significantly, policies across the rest of the economy are not on track to lower emissions as needed.
How major emitters are acting on climate change
The world’s countries have all signed the Paris Agreement, including major current and future emitters of greenhouse gases such as China and India. These countries are already acting on climate change, and are increasingly seeing that opportunities exist for them and their citizens in building a zero-carbon future and a growing, green economy.
The top three polluting countries in the world are responsible for 50% of global emissions. China, for example, generates around 30% of all global emissions, while the United States is responsible for almost 14% and India’s 7%. Without the combined efforts of all three nations, progress against climate change will not be possible.
In 2020, China committed to reaching carbon neutrality by 2060, as well as reaching a peak in its CO2 emissions before 2030, although recent studies suggest they may achieve this much earlier. The country reduced its coal mining capacity by 400 million tonnes since 2016, with aims to reduce it further by 2020.
Thanks to this reduction and to large increases in renewable energy generation, as well as measures to improve energy efficiency, China’s consumption of coal and associated emissions appears to be plateauing. China is also leading the world in electric vehicle (EV) production and sales, with its auto sector making a positive impact on other sectors by advancing innovation and bringing down costs for EVs around the world.
However, while these actions have contributed to reducing the rate at which Chinese emissions are growing, the actual level of emissions is still increasing due to investment in new coal-fired power stations and the use of fossil fuels in industrial sectors like steel and cement. China’s investments in fossil fuel-based infrastructure in neighbouring countries through the Belt and Road Initiative are also likely to cause a lot of additional greenhouse gas emissions.
Recently President Xi Jinping announced that China will give priority to environmental protection and promoting green lifestyles. Proclaiming the conservation of nature is an essential part of building a modern socialist country.
In a speech at the Communist Party Congress, Xi praised China’s progress in tackling environmental problems over the last 10 years and vowed to eliminate heavy air and water pollution while bringing soil contamination under control.
China is highly vulnerable to climate change and pollution. It has 6% of the global water reserves and 20% of the global population. “Ecological and environmental protection has undergone a historical, transformational and comprehensive change – our motherland’s skies are bluer, the mountains are greener and the water is clearer,” said Xi.
In August, India officially submitted its updated Paris Agreement targets, having first announced new targets at COP26 in November 2021. It strengthened both the value of its 2030 emissions intensity target and the share of electricity that will come from non-fossil fuel-based sources, compared to its first NDC.
India had set a target to install 175 gigawatts of renewable energy generators by 2022 but is now set to surpass this goal and extend it to 480 gigawatts. This success comes from costs falling quickly and strong government support for renewable energy. Implementing renewables policy continues to be challenging, however, due to differences in regional governance structures and many regions relying heavily on revenues from coal markets.
In the United States, another major emitter, emissions levels have started to decline since 2005, although energy-related carbon dioxide emissions rose between 2017 and 2018. The decision by former president Donald Trump to withdraw from the Paris Agreement took effect in November 2020 and represented a setback for climate policy in the United States. However, the Biden administration returned the US to the Paris Agreement in 2021.
Beyond climate action at the national level in the United States, many states, businesses and cities continue to take the threat seriously. The ‘We Are Still In’ Coalition, for example, brings together more than 3,500 major business leaders, governors, mayors and institutional representatives that are committed to the Paris Agreement.
On August 16, President Biden signed into law the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), the most potentially impactful climate policy in US history, setting the country’s emissions on a trajectory toward meeting its climate commitment to cut greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions in half by 2030, below 2005 levels.
The IRA marks a radical shift in US climate action by putting emissions firmly on a downward trajectory. However, the US Congress approved USD $1bn for international climate finance for 2022, falling far short of President Biden’s pledge to provide $11.4bn a year by 2024, announced in September 2021.
The instability of the UK government has led to the adoption of many new policies in the past two years, in a range of areas such as energy efficiency in buildings, heat pump uptake and agricultural decarbonisation. There is a lack of ambition from the UK government’s domestic climate target policy to achieve these goals and provide sufficient climate finance to support emissions reductions in less wealthy countries, according to the Climate Action Tracker website.
At the moment, under 40% of the emissions reductions required to meet the UK’s NDC are supported by policies with proven delivery mechanisms and sufficient funding.
In 2019, the UK committed to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Since then, it has increased the ambition of its 2030 NDC to align with this long-term target, aiming to reduce emissions to 68% below 1990 levels by 2030.
In September 2022, the UK revisited its 2030 NDC but did not strengthen the overall ambition of its target, contrary to what was requested at COP26 in Glasgow under the UK presidency.
The UK has also introduced a range of sectoral and cross-cutting policies to reduce emissions. In 2021, the UK released its Net Zero Strategy, which brings together these sectoral plans and makes a range of additional commitments.
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