In Depth

Fact Check: who is tackling global warming?

The countries doing the most - and the least - to address environmental issues

Climate change pollution

Two years after a landmark deal to tackle climate change was struck in Paris, some countries appear to be taking their commitment to slash greenhouse gas emissions more seriously than others.

In fact, no major industrialised country is on course to meet its Paris Agreement pledge to keep global warming to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

“We still find ourselves in a situation where we are not doing nearly enough to save hundreds of millions of people from a miserable future,” Erik Solheim, head of the UN Environment Programme, warned recently.

But that doesn’t mean bold action isn’t being taken by other nations: new analysis suggests that ambitious projects and policies in some parts of the world are already yielding impressive results.

How is progress measured and compared?

The Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI), published by the Climate Action Network and the German non-profit environmental organisation Germanwatch, ranks 56 countries and the EU according to their greenhouse gas emissions, renewable energy development, energy use and climate policy.

Similar work is being done by the Climate Action Tracker (CAT), a consortium of European research groups, which monitors and analyses the latest emissions data from 32 countries.

Comparing national efforts is tricky, however, say National Geographic’s Craig Welch. 

He asks: “Should a country be judged on how much it cuts emissions overall or by how much it reduces carbon pollution, on average, for each citizen? Should poor countries get extra credit for trying, since most are not huge contributors to climate change? All of this subjective.”

Despite the complexities involved in gauging and comparing the progress being made in the fight against climate change, experts “tend to agree which countries deserve praise for their ambition, which must do more, and which are just a welcome addition at all”, Welch says.

The global picture

The good news is that average CO2 emissions growth rates have fallen since last year’s CCPI report, says German newspaper Deutsche Welle. “The bad news: like last year, no country did well enough on energy policy to deserve a ‘very good’ ranking.”

 
Who is doing the most?

Sweden: The Scandinavian nation occupies the top spot in the latest CCPI report, for achieving a significant drop in its emissions, and a high share of renewables in its energy mix. Earlier this year, the Swedish government was applauded by climate campaigners for committing to completely phasing out greenhouse gas emissions by 2045 - far exceeding the EU’s target of an 80-95% emission reduction by 2050.

Sweden is “often held up as a role model” for countries wanting to curb their emissions while continuing to grow their economies, having increased GDP by almost 60% over the past 25 years while cutting carbon by a fifth, according to the BBC.

Morocco: Despite being responsible for less than a quarter of a per cent of global emissions, the North African country is taking some of the boldest action against climate change.

Its ambitious renewable energy efforts, including one of the world’s largest solar-power projects, have propelled Morocco to near the top of both the CCPI and CAT rankings. Morocco is currently on track to meet its 2020 renewable energy targets and is at an advanced planning stage to meet its 2030 goals. 

The UK: Britain has taken significant steps towards reducing emissions by rapidly phasing out coal power and investing in low-carbon energy sources, making it the fourth highest-ranking EU country in the CCPI rankings, after Sweden, Norway and Lithuania.

However, a report in June from the UK’s Committee on Climate Change, which advises the Government on climate policy, warned that progress is stalling. Emissions reductions “have been largely confined to the power sector, whilst emissions from transport and building stock are rising”, it said.

Who is doing the least?

Saudi Arabia: In 2015, the oil giant committed to emissions cuts “after years of slowing international climate negotiation”, says National Geographic. However, Saudi Arabia comes last in the CCPI rankings, and its efforts to reduce global warming in the last year have been rated “critically insufficient” by the CAT assessment.

“If all countries were to follow Saudi Arabia’s approach, global warming would exceed 4C,” the CAT report warns.

The US: President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement, as well as his rollback of key Obama-era climate policies, leaves the world’s second-largest polluter near the bottom of both rankings.

However, there are some positive signs that more ambitious action on climate protection will be taken by US cities and states to counterbalance the “disastrous developments” in federal policy, says the CCPI, though this is unlikely to be enough to bring the country in line with pledges made under the Paris deal.

Russia: With its high level of greenhouse gas emissions and a mitigation target that “drastically overshoots” the Paris temperature benchmark, Russia also sits at the bottom end of the rankings.

As one of the world’s largest emitters and fossil fuels producers, Russia could play a major role in international climate policy, says the CAT report. But President Vladimir Putin “appears to have backtracked on his concern around climate change” and has not yet ratified the Paris Agreement, it says.

While “many in the Russian political elite understand the seriousness of the problem, the current economic downturn, and conventional short-term economic thinking, means the political will to prioritise reducing emissions is absent,” concludes The Guardian’s Shaun Walker. 

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