HomeIndustry SectorsFinance and PolicyTracking countries climate action IRL shows needle isn’t moving

Tracking countries climate action IRL shows needle isn’t moving

Momentum to update 2030 targets for climate action has stalled since May, with no major emitters releasing stronger climate targets, says a new analysis released today by Climate Action Tracker (CAT).

This means the 2030 emissions gap has barely changed.

According to the Climate Action Tracker’s newly-updated rating method only one country, The Gambia, is rated as having overall climate action that is consistent with reaching the Paris Agreement 1.5˚C warming limit.

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Niklas Höhne of New Climate Institution, a CAT partner organisation, said they reported in May there would be good momentum with new climate action commitments after the Climate Leaders Summit and Petersburg dialogue. At that point, governments pointed out they only had to close the emission gap by up to 14%.

“But, since then there has been little to no improvement: nothing is moving,” said Höhne.

The CAT has updated all of the country ratings under a new ratings system which it launched today. The tracker now gives ratings on a wide range of actions: an overall rating, the domestic target, policies and action, fair share, climate mitigation finance (either on providing finance for climate mitigation or detailing what international support is needed, and land use and forestry where it is relevant. It also now rates net zero targets.

Actual climate action is not consistent with stated intentions

Of the 37 countries assed by the tracker, only The Gambia’s figures show it as having overall climate action compatible with reaching the Paris Agreement 1.5˚C warming limit.

In another six countries, overall action is nearly sufficient. This means they are not yet consistent with the Paris Agreement limit but could get there with moderate improvement.

Three countries – the EU, Germany and the US – have significantly updated their targets with a host of new policies. While the UK’s domestic target is compatible with reaching a 1.5˚C warming limit, its policies and international support don’t match their intention.

This leaves three-quarters of the countries assessed by the CAT with significant gaps in their climate action.

Bill Hare, CEO of Climate Analytic, a CAT partner, said: “Of particular concern are Australia, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, New Zealand, Russia, Singapore, Switzerland and Viet Nam. They have failed to lift ambitions at all, submitting the same or even less ambitious 2030 targets than those they put forward in 2015. These countries need to rethink their choice.

“The IPCC has given the world a ‘code red’ warning on the dangers of climate change, reinforcing the urgent need for the world to halve emissions by 2030. An increasing number of people around the world are suffering from ever more severe and frequent impacts of climate change. Yet, government action continues to lag behind what is needed. While many governments have committed to net zero, without near-term action, achieving net zero is virtually impossible,” said Hare.

Tracking South Africa’s climate action

Speaking to ESI Africa, Höhne said South Africa’s figures show the country to be well-positioned: “If you look at what the plan was ten years ago, greenhouse gas emissions were going up, coal was an unavoidable future. The situation is different now. We think, under current policies, carbon use is decreasing and current targets could be overachieved. Thus, we think South Africa needs to update its new targets.”

He pointed out the Presidential Climate Change Coordination Commission has already recommended more ambitious targets. “The most urgent thing South Africa needs to do is decide on its updated targets for 2030.”

“The first step is to update targets and planning. Targets are useless if they are not implemented and not supported by enabling policies. The idea, in the long run, has to be for decarbonisation and to reach zero greenhouse gas emissions. The whole world is moving in that direction, it’s just a question of how fast. The earlier the transition starts, the easier it will be.”

Höhne believes targeting new infrastructure build is a good starting point. This means weighing up the potential of new energy infrastructure to emit greenhouse gases and considering alternatives to coal plants. 

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Coal versus gas

On the policy front, coal remains a burning issue, with China and India both with huge coal pipelines. South East Asia is also of concern, with Indonesia, Vietnam, Japan and South Korea still planning to forge ahead with coal plans.

CAT’s partner companies are adamant gas is no good as a bridging fuel and needs to be phased out as soon as possible. The tracker notes Australia, the world’s largest gas exporter, is still expanding its gas exploration and the EU has plans to commit funding to new gas infrastructure.

“Gas is a fossil fuel, and any investment into gas today risks becoming a stranded asset. And, while interest in green hydrogen has grown exponentially, there is still a large number of hydrogen projects in the pipeline where it’s produced from gas. Hydrogen produced from gas still produces carbon and is inconsistent with reaching net zero,” said Hare.

While South Africa may appear to be headed in a positive direction, Höhne also pointed out the country is coming from a very different usage pattern for fossil fuels than other African countries. South Africa runs a lot of coal power stations, thus displaying a relatively higher per capita emission rate than other African countries. “Therefore it must do more than other African countries which release less greenhouse gases per person”.

Thus, while other African countries need only change profiles slightly to start addressing greenhouse gas emission figures, South Africa has to make more of an effort.

Alternatives to gas as baseload for developing nations

Höhne suggests instead use renewables coupled with energy storage systems, which has become economically competitive when compared to gas plants. In the case of developing nations where coupling RE with energy storage systems is not yet the least cost option, Höhne believes it is the developing nations who need to step up with financial assistance, given their historically bigger impact on global carbon emissions.

“There is an obligation on developed nations to help developing countries to get there as fast as possible. It may still be more expensive to build an alternative energy source power plant, but this is where South Africa could ask developed nations for help, by providing additional financial sources to make the step from coal to renewables possible. The thing South Africa needs to do now is think about the target it can achieve, but think about what the additional steps are that South Africa could take to get there, for which it needs international help.

“Be very concrete. Say this is the thing we need to do and this is how much money we need to do it. It’s different for different countries but the more specific you can be, the better,” said Höhne.

You can read the global update, which includes good practice tips for national net zero targets online.

The concept of gas as a bridging fuel to eventually reach net zero will be discussed at the Enlit Africa digital event between 26 and 28 October. Book your front row seat now for To LNG or not: Is that the question?

Theresa Smith
Theresa Smith is a conference producer for Clarion Events Africa.