Reducing consumption needs to be a central axis of the global mitigation agenda
CoP season inevitably sees the publication of a slew of reports to measure countries' climate targets and their progress towards them. The simplest method of doing the same is to measure countries’ targets against a pre-set, one-size-fits-all recommended percentage emissions reduction, as followed by The Truth Behind the Climate Pledges report released in November by the Universal Ecological Fund (Fundación Ecológica Universal or FEU-US).
Its conclusion that only the European Union (EU) and six other European countries are doing enough to combat climate change is being widely touted by outlets such as The Guardian.
However, in ranking all countries’ efforts based on a reductionist and absolute criteria, FEU-US' is notable in its abandonment of the principle of “Common But Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities” enshrined in the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and reiterated in the Paris Agreement.
It thus unfairly puts countries such as the United States (US) and those in the EU, which have a high share of historic emissions, high current per capita emissions, as well as massive accumulated wealth which enables them to do much more to mitigate climate change on the same footing as poor countries which share none of those attributes.
Many efforts to rank climate efforts have attempted to put equity at their heart, mostly notably Climate Action Tracker, a collaborative effort between Climate Analytics and the New Climate Institute, both based in Germany. The latter non-profit has also contributed to this year’s Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI) report, together with the Beirut-based Climate Action Network International and the Bonn-based Germanwatch.
CCPI assigns scores to countries on four parameters, namely “GHG Emissions” (assigned 40 per cent of the overall score), “Renewable Energy” (20 per cent), “Energy Use” (20 per cent), and “Climate Policy” (20 per cent). While its methodology does not explicitly address the equity question, equity is reflected in the high marks assigned to Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Energy Use, both of which are likely to be higher for richer countries.
As accounting for equity is necessarily a subjective exercise which may produce a range of visions, CCPI seemingly offers a good middle path, with the added advantage of offering easier comparability of countries’ sectoral efforts. Nevertheless, it must be emphasised that the Index entirely fails to reflect historical responsibility.
Lest highly-ranked countries sit back on their laurels, the study has left the top three positions empty, rightly arguing that no country is doing nearly enough to combat climate change. The performance of Sweden, Denmark, Morocco, the UK and India were judged “High” (see Table).
Ranking of select countries by Climate Change Performance Index
Source: Jan Burck, Ursula Hagen, Niklas Höhne, Leonardo Nascimento and Christoph Bals 2019, Climate Change Performance Index, Germanwatch
Ranked ninth, India broke into the top ten countries for the first time this year. The report rates the country’s 2030 mitigation targets as high on ambition, and praises its 2030 energy targets as one of the very few compatible with limiting global mean temperature rise to less than 2 degrees Celsius (°C).
Despite recent strides in climate policy, the report notes that the government has yet to develop a roadmap for the phase-out of fossil fuel subsidies to reduce the country’s high dependence on coal. Moreover it may be noted that India still doesn’t have a law addressing climate change holistically which perhaps reflects its low ranking on Climate Policy (see Table) amongst G20 countries.
The report notes that though India’s low per capita emissions may mean it is under less “moral pressure” to upgrade its climate targets, it has experienced the largest emission increase in the past half-decade. This, the report argues, together with the huge opportunities for poverty alleviation presented by the energy transformation means that India too must enhance its ambition.
In the UK, which ranked the highest amongst the G20 group of major world economies this year with a rank of seven, the report appreciates that in a significant first, renewable energy provided more electricity than fossil fuels this year. However, at 10 per cent, the overall share of renewables in the UK’s total energy consumption is still low.
Appreciating the country’s net zero law passed this year as well as its 2025 deadline for phasing out coal, the report nevertheless points out that the country is currently off track to keep within its self-proposed carbon budgets. More ominously, it notes climate regulations are at risk in a no-deal Brexit scenario.
Morocco’s position fell by one place and it now ranks sixth, the highest amongst developing countries. The report notes Morocco's ambitious 2020 and 2050 renewables targets, as well as its successful (albeit partial) phase-out of fossil fuel subsidies.
But the country’s failure to consult with local communities on renewables projects and its less-than effective climate policy in fields other than energy supply came in for criticism. Nevertheless, Morocco’s active role in advocating for least developed countries enabled it to achieve a high rating on international climate policy.
Ranked fifth in this year’s CCPI, Denmark has jumped ten places in the ranking this year. The biggest factor has been climate policy, a category in which the country moved up a whopping 24 positions to be ranked ninth.
The report notes that the main driver of recent positive developments in Denmark's climate action scene has been the constructive attitude of the recently- elected government which passed a potentially world-leading climate change law last week. The official coal phase-out target of 2030 also helped Denmark improve its ranking.
Like in previous years, Sweden is ranked fourth this year, making it the best-performing country. Nevertheless, its high per capita energy, which was not on track to limit warming to well below 2°C, came in for criticism, as did its lack of an energy use target and its poor offer of incentives for energy efficiency.
Neverthless, the country’s strong climate policy framework, including its target of achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045, its implementation of the world’s highest carbon tax and its target of 100 per cent renewable energy by 2040 made up for these factors. As the report notes, the country is a strong advocate of ambitious climate action at the EU level and one of the strongest financial contributors to the Green Climate Fund.
However, the authors caution that even Sweden’s high ambition is not enough to achieve the 2°C goal of the Paris Agreement. This would require developed countries like Sweden to achieve net zero emissions within the next decade.
The report laudably identifies a significant flaw in its own methodology in that it is based on production-based emissions alone, following the logic that the country producing the emissions is also the one held accountable for them. However, the continued rise in consumption despite the deindustrialisation experienced by many developed countries has made for rising dependence on imports and the consequent “outsourcing” of emissions.
Thus, the total carbon footprint of the UK, the G20 country ranked highest in the study, may be a whopping 40 per cent higher than what may be estimated from domestic production, making the country a world leader on this metric.
Similarly, the top rank awarded to Sweden and Denmark is despite the fact that Nordic countries have the highest levels of resource consumption in the world; levels comparable to better-known climate villains like the US.
While they generate more renewable energy than most countries, these gains are wiped out by carbon-intensive imports. All said, Nordic countries’ per capita consumption-based emissions are amongst the highest in the world and this fact is entirely unaccounted for in the CCPI’s methodology.
Rankings of countries’ climate efforts need to factor in the crucial question of consumption. This will enable consumption reduction to become the central axis of the global mitigation agenda that it sorely needs to be.
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