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The Global Fight Against Climate Change; NDCs and Net Zero Targets Worldwide

GLOBAL CLIMATE ACTION |


Nationally Determined Contributions

As part of the ongoing global battle against climate change, almost 200 countries have set greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) reductions targets, or nationally determined contributions (NDCs). They’re fairly self-explanatory; by a specified year, a nation aims to reduce its carbon emissions by a certain amount (compared to a previous, specific year). 

Every 5 years, member nations of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC) are required to submit revised NDCs, which are encouraged to progressively be greater GHG reduction targets, reflecting higher levels of ambition. Some national commitments are made more frequently, and more quickly than others. The latest round of NDCs came before COP26 in Glasgow Oct 31-Nov 12, many made well before in the case of more ambitious nations. Most members of the UNFCCC managed to make their improved NDCs public before COP 26. 

For example, the EU group of nations have committed to a collective target of 55% carbon emissions reduction by 2030 (compared to 1990 levels) – known as ‘Fit for 55‘. Countries worldwide have upped their original carbon reduction pledges made in the run-up to the Paris Climate Accord to new pledges reflecting greater climate ambition (described below). Many countries have taken the even more ambitious step of also setting a net zero emissions (carbon neutrality) national target (usually of 2050, but some nations have set different net zero target dates, described below).

Climate Change, Climate StrikeGreater climate ambition worldwide reflects the growing international urgency to address the global climate crisis, and to reduce countries’ and communities’ carbon footprints. Recently, the global climate fight has received international notoriety fueled by young people worldwide engaging in a variety of climate strikes and climate actions. Read more about youth movements for global action on climate here>>> unicef.org/environment-and-climate-change/youth-action

As climate science has evolved over the last few years, GHG reduction targets have become more ambitious. For example, the EU now promises to cut carbon emissions to 55% of 1990 levels by 2030 ( up from 40%) on its way to net zero by 2050. President Biden has pledged that the US will have carbon neutral energy on its electric grids by 2035, on its path to net zero by 2050 (up from 28% under Obama at the Paris Climate Accord). The “net zero” facet of national climate ambitions is a fairly new concept, kicked off by the relatively tiny nation of Bhutan in 2015.


Paris Climate Accord and Net Zero Targets

At the Paris Climate Accord, almost 200 world nations pledged GHG emission reduction targets. Based on the latest scientific guidance from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), many nations’ NDCs have evolved over the last few years. NDCs have become more ambitious, and now many nations have net zero targets as well. Nations such as the EU group of countries, the UK, other European nations, & Japan, have set targets to reach net zero carbon emissions (carbon neutrality) by 2050. A few European nations have even more ambitious net zero targets. Germany and Sweden, for example, have both set their net zero targets for 2045. Finland aims for net zero by 2035>

The Paris Climate Accord is not legally binding, so actual binding NDCs must originate from national, state, and regional governments. (When not put forward by a national government, but rather by state or regional governments; these commitments are simply referred to as GHG reduction pledges). In the case of the EU, NDC targets and the 2050 net zero target are codified into law by legislation that is passed by the European Commission – the European Climate Law (effective July 2021).

The United States federal government has the executive commitment of President Biden to bold climate pledges (as of 2021) – net zero by 2050, carbon neutral energy on US grids by 2035, and at least a 50% reduction in GHGs by 2030 (compared to 2005 levels). The United States Congress hasn’t yet passed legislation committing to NDCs or a net zero target (like the EU has as well as several European nations independently). American states (such as California and several others) have passed GHG reduction targets and net zero targets for their individual states; through State Congresses as binding legislation. 

Many European nations (& California) had legally binding net zero targets, as well as ambitious GHG reduction pledges, in place well before China or the US. (Historically, China & the US are the 2 biggest emitters of GHGs in the world). China has set their net zero target for 2060 (in September 2020); while the United States has committed to net zero by 2050 (with President Biden taking office, in January 2021). It is expected that NDC and net zero commitments that the Chinese national government makes, will be codified into legally binding law in China. The US Congress would need to pass legislation, much as the European Commission has, in order for its NDC and net zero targets to become legally binding.

Net zero pledges made by governments around the world represent ambitious goals to keep global warming below 2°C (that’s 2°C rise above pre-industrial temperature averages), and ideally to 1.5°C this century; making good on the latest IPCC climate targets. Here is a map with countries’ various degrees of progress to net zero:

Map of Net-zero progress from BloombergNEF

[Compare developed nations of the EU and Japan (best – top quartile, in green), and US as well as a few other nations in blue (2nd quartile), to 3rd & 4th quartile nations on the above map. Many governments (a few G-20 nations, and nations not in the G-20) have yet to even make net zero pledges for their nations. Most of these are developing nations that believe that using fossil fuel energy is necessary to help alleviate poor socioeconomic conditions.

Historically, fossil fuels have brought developed nations a higher standard of living, however, renewables will effectively raise the standard of living for developing nations with cleaner, cheaper, abundant energy. Climate change will disproportionately affect developing nations, which have done the least to cause the problem. The solution is for all world nations, developed and developing, to simultaneously make the clean energy transition, and enjoy the benefits of clean energy development.]



NDCs and Net Zero targets

CAT Consortium’s ‘Climate Action Tracker’ – ‘Governments still showing little sign of acting on climate crisis’

Almost 200 countries have pledged NDCs to the United Nations Framework on Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC), but are any of them doing enough? Analysis by the CAT Consortium’s ‘Climate Action Tracker‘ suggests that of the world’s great powers, only European nations (and California, as well as several other states) are truly leading the way in achieving GHG reduction targets. Nations in Northern Europe especially stand out as climate action leaders with regard to successfully reaching ambitious GHG reduction targets.

EU and US

The European Union (initially at Paris) pledged at least a 40% cut in GHGs below 1990 levels by 2030, and since then, in April 2021, has committed to 55% carbon reduction by 2030 (compared to 1990 levels). This is not merely an aim either; it’s legally binding. The EU Climate Law set the net zero by 2050 target into law in June 2021.

First of all, let’s take a look at the promises made by various major developed nations and states. In March 2015, President Obama initially pledged ahead of the Paris Climate Accord that the United States aims to cut its emissions by 26-28% by 2025 (in comparison to 2005 levels). President Biden has since set an even more ambitious NDC of at least 50% GHG reduction by 2030 (compared to 2005 levels). Biden has also pledged 100% carbon free energy on electric grids in the United States by 2035; and net zero GHG emissions for the US by 2050.

The US Congress would need to act on NDCs, net zero targets, and other ambitious climate actions, in order to pass legislation, and make these commitments binding. The EU, as well as states in the US (like California), have passed laws for their ambitious climate targets. Although the US as a whole is behind Europe, California is still a global leader as far as GHG reduction targets (as states are responsible for their own GHG reduction goals). California plans to reach the target of 100% clean and renewable energy statewide by 2045


Other World Nations

The UK government has set a very ambitious NDC68% GHG reduction by 2035 (compared to 1990 levels). Likewise, Sweden has a very ambitious NDCat least 63% GHG reduction by 2030 (compared to 1990 levels) in “EU Effort Sharing Regulation” sectors, and even higher levels of ambition in other sectors. The Swedes also started to set their net zero by 2045 target into national law all the way back in 2017. Other world nations, from Switzerland to Costa Rica also have ambitious NDCs.

In April 2021, Canada ramped up their NDC to at least 40% GHG reduction by 2030 (compared to 2005 levels). Shortly after, the Canadian government passed legislation committing to a national net zero by 2050 target. Canada also has been implementing progressive carbon pricing nationwide, with the aim of getting to net zero.

Australia differs from Canada and the EU in that the country has not legislated ramped-up targets. The Australian government has officially announced that the initial NDC set in the Paris Climate Accord is “…a floor…” (at least 26% GHG reduction by 2030 compared to 2005 levels), and that the country is on course to “…overachieve on this target…”; as well as a national goal to achieve net zero “…as soon as possible”. Australia has committed to net zero by 2050 just ahead of COP26 in Glasgow, however, the commitment hasn’t been legislated, so it isn’t legally binding. 

Ahead of the Paris Climate Accord, China initially announced it would be lowering carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by 60% to 65% from the 2005 level. China is currently the world’s largest emitter of GHGs, and its attempts to meet its carbon intensity targets are rated ‘inadequate’ by the Climate Action Tracker. Despite this, China now aims to hit the target of net zero by 2060; and is trying to stay on course to reach its original NDC target.

India initially pledged to reduce the emissions intensity of its national GDP by 33-35% by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. India also intends to produce a significant amount of additional forest and tree cover (for carbon sequestration, in order to achieve carbon neutrality). India also intends to invest a substantial amount in renewable energy and energy efficiency; but on this and indeed their overall emissions targets, India can be vague on how it plans to achieve them. India has yet to make a net zero commitment, despite the over 100 other nations that made net zero commitments before COP26 in Glasgow. 

Until recently, Japan had been slow to reduce its national GHG emissions, despite an ambitious pledge of 80% emissions reduction by 2050. However, in November 2020, Japan made an even more ambitious pledge of net zero by 2050 (or…”as close as possible to 2050″). Like China, Japan has been dependent on coal (especially after increasing coal energy on the national grid following the Fukushima nuclear disaster). However, Japan now says it is committed to shutting down its coal-fired power plants; and developing more renewable energy in its place. The Japanese government says that “Japan will strive to achieve a decarbonized society by as close as possible to 2050“. Japan has an interim NDC of 26% GHG reduction by 2030 (compared to 2013 levels).


Here is a summary of the most recent nationally determined contributions from nations discussed in this article, heading into COP26 in Glasgow: 

EU’s NDCreduce GHGs by 55% below 1990 levels by 2030 

UK’s NDCreduce economy-wide GHGs by at least 68% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels 

USA’s NDC: at least a 50% reduction in GHGs by 2030 compared to 2005 levels

China’s NDC: to achieve the peaking of carbon dioxide emissions around 2030 and to lower carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by 60% to 65% from the 2005 level

India’s NDCreduce the emissions intensity of its national GDP by 33-35% by 2030 compared to 2005 levels

Germany’s NDCpreliminary targets of cutting emissions by at least 65% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels, and 88% by 2040 

Sweden’s NDC: at least 63% GHG reduction by 2030 compared to 1990 levels

Japan’s NDCreduce GHGs by 46% by 2030 from its fiscal year 2013 levels 

Australia’s NDCan economy-wide target to reduce GHGs by 26 to 28% below 2005 levels by 2030 

Canada’s NDCreduce emissions by 40-45% below 2005 levels by 2030 


COP and CAT (Conference of the Parties and Climate Action Tracker)

Countries set interim targets (mostly targetting 2030), and now largely many major world nations are en route to net zero. Upon setting an initial interim target in the Paris Climate Accord, countries are supposed to ramp up their interim 2030 NDC targets on a 5-year basis (or ideally, more frequently), and with the latest IPCC guidance; strongly encouraged to set net zero targets. Every 5 years, all UNFCCC member nations are required to submit new NDCs. Due to COVID-19, the year 2020 was just a low-profile virtual meeting; and the formal UNFCCC COP (in which all new NDCs from all UNFCCC member nations is due) will be COP26 in Glasgow.

The CAT Consortium runs the Climate Action Tracker, which grades each nation on how useful its promises actually are. Each nation’s NDC shapes to ‘current policy’ scenario in the CAT chart below. The ideal ‘optimistic’ scenarios are based on the most ambitious net zero emissions by 2050 targets being fully realized. How are current climate policies worldwide (NDCs) going to actually reduce global greenhouse gas emissions as world nations try to achieve net zero GHGs (carbon neutrality) in order to stop global warming? This chart, from Climate Action Tracker (CAT), models current climate policy outcomes, as well as optimistic net zero targets, to 2100>>>

Current climate policies vs. optimistic net zero targets – CAT


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California – Current Progress of a Climate Champion

California – A Climate Leader


Learning From California’s Struggle to Balance Decarbonization With Energy Resilience

Since California passed the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, marking its commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), the state has continued to align itself with ongoing climate change initiatives and policies.

After the first decade of the initial policy’s implementation, California boosted its economy while diminishing carbon pollution with clean energy and new green technologies. However, more work needs to be done for California to reduce emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.

Despite a few shortcomings, California’s success in combating climate change can teach other states a critical lesson in applying similar climate action measures.


California: A Work in Progress

California is no stranger to the effects of climate change. In 2021, California Fire and the U.S. Forest Service responded to 8,786 wildfires spanning 2,568,941 acres. The consequences of these frequent fires include lower air quality, reduced soil quality, and the destruction of the state’s ecosystems, homes, and livelihoods.

In other parts of the state, like the Sierra Nevada, hotter temperatures are melting the snow and releasing about 15 million acre-feet of water all at once. With this event occurring more frequently and earlier in the year, the state’s water storage facilities face increased pressure and generate fear of worsening floods and water shortages.

California has recognized the importance of securing its precious resources, including its energy. More fires and extreme temperatures are unavoidable due to climate change in the years to come.

The energy sector has changed dramatically over the years, from depending on natural sunlight to electrical grids to investments in renewable energy technologies. Populations and heavy industry have increased worldwide, and the demand for greener initiatives has, as well.

California has done the following in its effort to become more energy-efficient:

Powerful storms, strong winds, fires, tornadoes, and other natural events can knock out electricity grids for days, weeks, and even months on end. However, it’s essential to create substantial emissions-reducing legislation that tackles the climate crisis and allows for a more resilient power source.

What else can be done to progress the decarbonization of California and other states across the nation?


The Next Step: Decarbonizing Buildings

Buildings are responsible for generating nearly 40% of the world’s global greenhouse gas emissions, a majority of which are produced by operations and materials. California recently launched the Building Decarbonization Coalition (BDC) to continue balancing energy resilience with decarbonization.

Residential and commercial properties account for 25% (roughly) of California’s GHGs, including on-site fossil fuels and refrigerants for space cooling.

The BDC aims to cut 40% of structural emissions and adopt zero-emissions building codes by 2030. It has gathered experts in the energy sector, public interest advocates, building contractors, construction workers, local government officials, real estate agents, and investors for their input and industry knowledge.

The BDC released a guide that details set goals, philosophies, policies, and strategies that California intends to meet in its path toward building decarbonization. Highlights and recommendations from the report include:

  • Adopt an emissions-free building code for all new construction, removing the reliance on fossil fuels and shifting toward renewables instead.
  • Replace heat and hot water appliances in existing buildings with zero-emission alternatives over time.
  • Help increase the market share of clean, electric appliances by replacing all fossil fuel-burning appliances.
  • Ensure that building decarbonization is conducted in a cost-effective, equitable way to prevent burdening disadvantaged communities with excess costs.
  • Guarantee that efforts to decarbonize buildings aid the grid by incorporating renewable energy into the state’s power supply.

Barriers to Building Decarbonization

While California’s building decarbonization pursuits could be applied to emissions-reducing objectives in other states, the BDC and stakeholders recognize that several barriers need to be addressed for the state to reach its goals by 2030:

  • Government officials, industry experts, and the public currently lack interest in and understanding of building decarbonization technologies.
  • Gas utility companies and various labor unions are likely to deliver political resistance, particularly to decarbonizing commercial buildings.
  • A lack of coordination exists between like-minded emissions-reducing organizations throughout the state.
  • Customers and contractors are faced with higher upfront costs and little financial assistance or incentives to back renewable technologies for building decarbonization.
  • Many building decarbonization technologies aren’t available yet, requiring more states to manufacture green technologies, as well.
  • Existing energy policies and building codes need to be updated to meet the newer emissions-reducing goals of decarbonization initiatives.
  • Businesses and organizations don’t understand how they could realize energy savings through decarbonization.

The state needs to seek solutions to these obstacles for the next phase of California’s decarbonization actions to work.


A Model of Success

Climate change will continue to worsen and affect states differently. However, California continues to lead in its approach to decarbonization and energy resilience.

California’s climate policies’ collective political, economic, and social foundation serves as a model of its success. Other states can learn from it and replicate parts of its action plans.



Article by Jane Marsh

Jane works as an environmental and energy writer. She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of –

Environment.co

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Sustainable Energy Infrastructure

Clean Energy Transition – GREEN Infrastructure


Updating Infrastructure for Developing Renewable Energy in Cities

People-centered smart cities are cropping up worldwide. They only account for 2% of the world’s landmass but are home to most of its population, energy use, and economic activity. 

Cities are adopting modern clean energy technologies to become smarter, and one crucial aspect is renewable energy. Renewables can empower smart cities and help them reach goals they set for themselves. Citizens and the city benefit (as well as the planet’s climate and environment) from using green energy, such as wind and solar, as well as from the multitude of recent sustainable technology innovations currently available.

It’s no secret that relying on fossil fuels is unsustainable — that’s why almost 200 of the world’s countries have joined the Paris Accord intending to limit global warming and reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). 

Here’s how infrastructure will play a crucial role in developing renewable energy in cities, and hopefully in securing the planet’s future –


U.S. Government Aid in the Shift to Renewable Energy

As cities become larger and smarter, the amount of energy they use increases. As a result, governments are stepping in to provide incentives and funding to municipalities looking to shift to renewable energy. Cities are making a shift to all forms of clean energy technology in multiple economic sectors – energy, buildings, transportation, water, etc… – all types of infrastructure.

For example, President Biden’s sustainable infrastructure and social spending plan – the Build Back Better (BBB) plan – originally included $174 billion in spending to focus on the electric vehicle (EV) market, yet another clean energy sector experiencing rapid growth. [The bill actually passed by Congress in 2021 contained a small portion of this funding – see below].

The BBB plan also originally included tax credits to consumers for purchases of EVs, investment in electric school buses, investment in EV charging infrastructure, investment to retool factories and boost the domestic supply of EVs, and more… Additionally, the original BBB plan proposed $100 billion to modernize the country’s electric grid and modernize energy infrastructure across the country.

If the U.S. signs even a scaled-down version of the BBB into law, it would be considered one of the largest federal efforts to curb GHGs. 

However, the BBB plan is ambitious and represents challenging legislation to advance. A small slice of the BBB (roughly 15-20% of the original BBB plan) passed through Congress and was signed by President Biden (in November 2021). This legislation – the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) does include funding for modern infrastructure needs. Although at a much lower funding level than the original BBB proposed, the IIJA invests $550 billion in new spending over five years to bolster the nation’s infrastructure, public mass transit, broadband, water, energy, environmental concerns, EV charging infrastructure, and electric & low-emission school buses.

The IIJA also includes investments in the modernization of U.S. energy grids, clean energy technologies, clean energy infrastructure, and hundreds of billions in additional investments in sustainability this decade. See this link for a full list of IIJA’s investment priorities in transportation infrastructure, water infrastructure, broadband, energy, and environmental concerns). 


Cities worldwide do have some government support in their transition to renewable energy in some cases. In fact, globally, more than 1 billion people live in areas with renewable energy targets or policies. However, there also needs to be more private investment to help build sustainable infrastructure. 


How Cities Can Assess Energy Demand

Cities must first address their current energy usage before implementing renewable power to improve their infrastructure. 

The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) has many online tools that local and state governments can leverage to better understand their energy consumption. For example, cities can access data that breaks down power usage by:

  • GHGs
  • Electricity and natural gas consumption/expenditures
  • Residential and commercial building stock
  • Fuel consumption, vehicle miles traveled, and registration by fuel type
  • Renewable energy procurement options

The data plays a significant role in helping cities determine their energy usage and shows what areas of consumption need to be reduced. This will lead to government agencies making more strategic decisions regarding renewable implementation. 

Once cities understand their energy usage and the benefits of renewables, they can then focus on planning implementation to make infrastructure more efficient, sustainable, and reliable. 


Updating Crucial Infrastructure Components

What are the crucial components of infrastructure that need to be updated to achieve higher levels of sustainability? Not all of the priority investments of the IIJA are in clean energy infrastructure – for example, large investments in the IIJA are dedicated to repairing roads and bridges (conventional infrastructure). However, the IIJA also invests $7.5 billion for EV charging infrastructure, $2.5 billion for electric school buses, and $2.5 billion for low-emission school buses.

Here is a brief list of just a few vital infrastructure items (some of which are investments in the IIJA law, some of which are in the original BBB plan, as well as a couple of novel ideas for sustainable investment) –

Electric Grid

In the next few years, cities will have to update the power grid to prepare for a net-zero future. Strengthening and modernizing the electric grid means cities will face fewer disruptions. Increasing resiliency has to be a top priority for cities across the country. 

Here are some of the ways the electric grid can improve over time and with proper funding:

  • Employing microgrids to strengthen resilience
  • Recording demand response from grid customers
  • Enacting smart metering
  • Updating grid hardware
  • Using grid energy storage devices

Water Systems

Water and power are intimately connected, but what role does water play in power generation? It generates energy because it’s used by thermoelectric power plants and refining and processing fossil fuels. Plants and refineries use large quantities of water to operate. For this reason, and for the benefit of public health, sustainable purification systems can help lessen these large water footprints.

Cities will have to invest in efficient water infrastructure to reach sustainability initiatives throughout all socioeconomic sectors, so that all of society benefits.

(Novel sustainable energy infrastructure ideas for -) Highways

State and local highway departments have many responsibilities, from plowing roads during snowstorms to taking on major repairs or replacement projects. A significant amount of electricity is needed to power them efficiently. Think about the roadway signs, lights, rest stops, and maintenance buildings. All these factors increase energy consumption. 

Some state departments of transportation (DOTs) have implemented solar in highway rights-of-way (ROW) to offset electricity costs and consumption. Additionally, the Federal Highway Administration has supported the move for state agencies to adopt renewable energy to power highways. Improving roadways will be crucial when developing renewable energy in cities.


Moving Toward a Sustainable Future

Cities must carefully plan the implementation of renewable energy sources to be more sustainable. The most important factor to consider is updating infrastructure. 

Cities, states, and federal government agencies must work together to update the various aspects of infrastructure that will make cities more sustainable. It will certainly be interesting to see how municipalities use their resources to transition to renewables to sustain current and future demands.



Article by Jane Marsh

Author bio:

Jane works as an environmental and energy writer. She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of

Environment.co