With COP23 due to start in less than a week’s time, now is a good time to take stock of how the world has changed since COP22, COP21 and the Paris Agreement. Leaving aside the United States, which receives a fairly constant level of attention with regards to its climate policy, this review briefly considers the progress of the other big three contributors to climate change – China, the EU and India – in meeting their Nationally Declared Commitments (NDCs). It is important to remember that NDCs are produced internally by the state, don’t represent legally binding contracts, and include no obligate sanction for the failure of a state to achieve its set goals. The Climate Action Tracker (CAT), an independent scientific initiative that assesses the efforts of different countries to tackle climate change and rates them relative to their impact on the climate, is an excellent resource for exploring the relationship between what is being said about climate policy and what is really going on. The central goals of each NDC, supplied from the UN’s central INDC database, are listed with each entry.
Positive changes in the last three years include the introduction of powers for NGOs to sue companies in breach of emissions regulations, the boosting of government investment in gas and renewable energy sources, and most importantly the significant declines in coal use – in 2016 the communist party assigned $4.6 billion to the closure of 4300 coal mines. There are even whispers that China’s CO2 output may be about to peak. The success of China’s recent glut of environmental policy changes, however, is only a reflection of the goals it set itself in the Paris Climate Agreement, goals which the CAT judges to be insufficient to help restrict global temperature increase to 2°C. Largely this is due to the inadequacy of the supplementary NDC target of obtaining 10% of the nation’s energy from gas and 20% from non-fossil fuels by 2030, a target that is insufficient given the massive contribution China currently makes to global emissions. An emphasis on CO2 in Chinese policy has also contributed to a convenient lack of commitments to reducing some of the other greenhouse gases. Given the gains made in Chinese environmental protectionism in the last few years, however, the state’s pride over the initial progress it has made seems somewhat justifiable.
While the Chinese government has exerted its unilateral control to implement policy changes, the EU has taken a market approach. One way it has done this is through the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS), which caps the level of carbon emissions that can be produced by industry within a country. Emissions credits can then be bought and sold by companies allowing them to either raise their limit if necessary or to take advantage of their low emissions. The idea behind this is that EU-wide emissions targets can be met while allowing flexibility of manufacturers that struggle to meet stringent guidelines. But the system has come under scrutiny for failing to produce the declines necessary to meet the 40% target; not least from the EU legislative bodies themselves, which as of 2017 are hoping to crack down on oversupply and devaluation of emissions credits by increasing the rate at which the overall emissions cap is lowered, from 1.74% to 2.2%. Even the EU therefore recognises the inadequacy of the systems currently in place – even assuming the cooperation of member states – for achieving its flagship 2030 goal.
The weaknesses of the Paris Climate Agreement are evident in the lack of significant alterations to the mid-term strategies of parties like China, the EU and India in the wake of its introduction. With countries able to set their own targets, the temptation to produce NDCs that don’t require any ambitious changes in policy seems to have proved too great in many cases. For this reason the CAT rates the efforts of most countries as at least ‘insufficent’ – India being an exception, needing to achieve much less to make a fair contribution to global climate efforts due to the relatively low levels of emissions per capita it needs to negate. Although only two years have past since Paris, making it perhaps too early to lament a lack of change, the inadequacy of some of the biggest polluter’s NDCs is real cause for concern.
More information and nice graphs from the CAT available on their website (http://climateactiontracker.org/) than you can shake a stick at, as well as other relevant articles and papers below:
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