Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has brought the largest war to Europe in decades, sparked global food and energy crises, worsened inflation — and distracted leaders from the big climate promises they made last year at the COP26 meeting in Glasgow.
Only 19 out of the 193 countries that vowed to put forward more ambitious targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions at the UN-sponsored climate talks in Glasgow last November had done so by last Friday, the deadline set by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Of these, only Australia’s plan will lead to more emissions cuts, while Indonesia’s reflects a slight increase in ambition.
“That’s overall very disappointing,” said Tom Evans, a climate diplomacy researcher at Brussels think tank E3G. “But the important thing to remember is that the focus this year is implementation — it’s about how we deliver our commitments.”
And there is good news on that front. The US just passed the Inflation Reduction Act, which lays out the way to achieve its climate target of halving greenhouse gas emissions by the end of this decade, compared with 2005 levels. The European Union has so far managed to keep its mammoth package of green legislation on track, despite the war sending energy prices to record levels.
In fact, the bloc’s move away from Russian fossil fuels may enable it to boost its headline target in the coming months. The EU’s three main institutions — the Commission, Parliament and Council — have all agreed to boost ambition on renewables and energy efficiency by 2030. That could mean increasing by a couple more percentage points the EU’s target for a 55% emissions cut by the end of the decade, compared with 1990 levels.
“Seeking commitment on ambition is looking at just one side of the coin,” Evans said. “We can’t expect every country every year to come up with new targets — what’s the point of setting a target if you can’t deliver on it?”
Still, these developments don’t mask the fact that world leaders have more urgent worries right now. Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs, as countries’ climate plans are known, are clearly not their top priority.
Under the Glasgow accord, countries that had not updated their climate plans were obligated to do so “as soon as possible” and all nations committed to “revisit and strengthen” their 2030 targets by the end of 2022. That means new documents could still be submitted, but they won’t be incorporated in the UNFCCC’s synthesis report, a calculation of future emissions and warming set to be published just before COP27.
Taking into account emissions targets set for 2030, the world would warm by 2.4°C by 2100, according to a June analysis by Climate Action Tracker, or CAT, which analyzes and ranks climate plans. Global leaders agreed to keep the level of warming well below 2°C when they signed the Paris Agreement in 2015. The nonprofit is planning to release an updated outlook ahead of COP27 in November.
Here’s a look at the countries that did their homework — and the ones that didn’t.
Of the 18 new climate plans submitted after COP26, only Australia’s will lead to more emissions cuts. The country updated its climate target in June after the Labor Party and a number of pro-climate action independents won big in last May’s elections. The government led by Prime Minister Tony Albanese is now targeting a 43% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by the end of this decade, compared with 2005 levels.
The target still lags behind those set by the US, the EU and the UK, and is rated “insufficient” by CAT. “Australia is still supporting new coal mines and expansions, as well as massive liquified natural gas developments,” said Bill Hare, chief executive officer at Climate Analytics, one of the organizations behind CAT.
South America’s largest nation put forward a target that’s actually weaker than the one it presented in 2016. The document has been submitted as deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon reached a record high.
“Under [Brazil president Jair] Bolsonaro, these NDCs have been essentially greenwashing,” Evans said. “They’ve changed baselines and come up with ways to do creative accounting, to weaken targets and, at the same time, not pursue policies at home that could lead to achieving these targets in the first place.”
The upcoming presidential election could change it all, with former president and candidate Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva vowing to reverse Bolsonaro’s climate-skeptic policies. The latest polls show he’s nearing the simple majority needed to win on the first round on Oct. 2.
Africa’s second-largest natural gas producer, and responsible for a third of the continent’s consumption, did not set an overall target to cut emissions and made its goals conditional on international support. CAT ranked it as “highly insufficient,” a worrying sign for the country hosting this year’s climate talks.
India, the world’s third-largest emitter, has committed to making renewable power meet 50% of the country’s electricity needs by 2030. By the same year, it also sets out to lower its emissions per unit of Gross Domestic Product by 45%, compared with 2005. However, this will not necessarily reduce its overall carbon footprint.
In a last-minute submission on Friday, Indonesia boosted its 2030 target to "unconditionally" reduce emissions below business-as-usual levels from 29% to 31.89%. Although Indonesia's baseline, business-as-usual scenario has been criticized as being inflated, the more ambitious targets reflect modestly greater ambition, according to an informal, early assessment by environmentalists.
The country also said its next target will be in line with its 2060 net-zero goal — language that suggests that this pledge may fall short, but Indonesia is seeking to keep on track.
Britain will keep its headline pledge to cut emissions by 68% by 2030, compared with 1990 levels, unchanged. Its new plan simply added more clarification on how it will get there and broadened the goal to incorporate overseas territories and crown dependencies.
While the UK’s climate minister Graham Stuart was keen to tout that its emissions reduction target is the most ambitious of any major economy, there is concern among environmentalists and green investors that the country may backslide under new Prime Minister Liz Truss. She has pushed to boost fossil fuel production to help weather the energy crisis.
“After a summer of heatwaves, droughts and catastrophic floods across the world, the UK’s update is little more than an emissions accounting exercise,” said Rebecca Newsom, head of politics from Greenpeace UK. “The UK target may be better than many, but still fails to rise to what’s needed to head off a climate catastrophe.”
A large number of big emitters with outdated climate plans have not submitted new targets in time for the UNFCCC to include them in this year’s estimate of future warming, which will be released just before COP27. Documents by Mexico and Turkey were nowhere to be seen, even if both had indicated earlier this year they would enhance their targets before the summit. Vietnam, Iran, Russia, Turkey, South Africa or South Korea haven’t submitted new documents either.
“The gist of what Glasgow said was we’re not yet on track,” said David Waskow, director of the World Resources Institute’s International Climate Initiative. While there’s been “modest movement,” he said, “there were missed opportunities, and clearly we need to galvanize much stronger action.”
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