GLOBAL CLIMATE ACTION |
Nationally Determined Contributions and Net Zero
As part of the ongoing global battle against climate change, almost 200 countries have set greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) reduction 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, and many were 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 national target (usually of 2050, but some nations have set different net zero target dates, described below).
Greater 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:
[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
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 NDC - 68% GHG reduction by 2035 (compared to 1990 levels). Likewise, Sweden has a very ambitious NDC - at 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:
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
Canada’s NDC: reduce 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>>>