As part of the ongoing battle against climate change, numerous countries in the developed world have set themselves carbon reduction goals. They’re fairly self-explanatory; by a certain year, a certain nation aims to have reduced its carbon emissions by a certain amount compared to a previous, certain year.
Essentially every major country has joined in, but are any of them doing enough? Analysis by the CAT Consortium’s ‘Climate Action Tracker‘ suggests that none of the world’s great powers are coming close to leading the way on carbon reduction as you might expect, and in fact it is smaller countries that are achieving the most impressive things in this area. This odd disparity needs to be investigated further.
First of all, let’s take a look at the promises made by various major states. In March 2015, President Obama confirmed that the United States aims to cut its emissions by 26-28% by 2025, in comparison to 2005 levels. The EU demands a 40% cut in greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 levels by 2030, and this is not merely an aim either; it’s legally binding.
The really good aspect of the EU’s current carbon reduction plan is that it should dramatically overachieve on its commitments made for the Kyoto Protocol, but less promising is that it doesn’t look likely to meet its more ambitious Copenhagen Pledge, which aimed to reduce emission levels by 30% from 1990 levels by 2020. Once one of these high profile pledges has been broken, you start to have less faith that others of them will be achieved.
Ahead of the Paris United Framework Climate Change Conference in 2015, China announced it would be cutting its carbon emissions by a sizeable 60-65% compared to its 2005 level. While this may be a lot more than the other states included in this article, China is of course comfortably the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gas, and its attempts to meet its carbon intensity targets are so ineffective that they would be rated ‘inadequate’ by the Climate Action Tracker if taken in isolation.
India intends its carbon emissions to be between 33-35% lower in 2030 than they were in 2005. They also intend to generation additional forest and tree cover, but on this and indeed their overall emissions targets, India can be alarmingly vague on how it plans to achieve them. Elsewhere, Australia targets a 26-28% reduction from 2005 levels by 2030, and Canada has set a 30% reduction target from 2005 by 2030.
This excel spreadsheet lists NDC* targets by country:
Table of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions from selected countries
Many of these figures sound fairly impressive. Considering how overwhelming swathes of the world are currently powered in not particularly environmentally friendly ways, numbers like 30-35% sound like ambitious targets from nations prepared to make sacrifices in order to safeguard the future for generations to come.
But all is not as it seems. Campaign group The CAT Consortium run the Climate Action Tracker, which grades each nation on how useful its promises actually are. The results are not good. None of the countries listed above are rated higher than a ‘medium’ on their scale, and Australia and Canada are deemed ‘inadequate.’ The five countries whose reduction targets have been deemed ‘sufficient’ by the Climate Action Tracker are Bhutan, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Morocco and the Gambia.
Major countries like the United States are simply not pulling their weight. Their Nationally Determined Contribution towards limiting climate change to an increase below 2°c will not be enough unless other countries make much deeper reductions and comparably greater effort. The CAT is particularly scathing about Australia, whose environmental policies are entirely at odds with its commitments.
If it keeps going at its current rate, Australia’s carbon emissions in 2030 will, astonishingly, be 27% higher than 2005 levels. In 2014, the Australian government abolished its Clean Energy Future Plan, which was going some way to helping the country meet its targets. If most countries mistakenly followed Australia’s example, global warming would comfortably exceed 3-4°c.
Of course, there are pressures that come with being a massive global economy that nations like Bhutan and Morocco don’t face, but that’s no excuse for the broken promises, nor the lack of ambition. Costa Rica’s targets are at the most ambitious end of its fair contribution. The United States’s targets are at the least ambitious end.
Why are smaller nations putting in the most amount of effort? Perhaps the most developed nations in the world, having grown used to a comfortable lifestyle, find it hard to comprehend the sheer destruction that climate change could cause; that’s the most logical conclusion when you see the disparity in the figures.
Our day to day lives are fairly easy- we wake up in homes that are well heated or air conditioned depending on the weather, food stocks are plentiful when we go to stores, electricity is available on demand anywhere we go. All of these things could change if global warming takes full effect, but we take them for granted and perhaps don’t truly believe deep down that they will ever change. These comforts have been there for us since we were born, so surely they will still be there when we die? Well, unfortunately not.
For this reason, environmentally conscious people living in nations deemed ‘inadequate’ or merely ‘medium’ need to be hyper vigilant about holding their ruling class to promises made about carbon emissions reduction, and cajoling them to go further still. In the long run, this is the only way to maintain a standard of living similar to what we enjoy today. Climate change is the most pressing problem posed to the planet, and unless we take an enthusiastic role in stopping it, we will one day rue the consequences. Does our generation want to be remembered for the planet’s destruction?
*NDC= Nationally Determined Contribution