While we can see some progress being achieved in environment protection (e.g. reduced greenhouse gas emissions in the developed countries), more generally, many governments are still not fully committed to implementing the 2030 targets.
Just between 2000 and 2020 globally gas emissions have increased by over 40%, and therefore it is understandable that commitments are being made to reduce them till 2030 for 55%. And, who are the biggest polluters in Europe: as expected the four bigger countries (Germany, Italy, France, and Poland) contribute even 59.3% of the total. But fortunately, at least in some countries pressure is mounting to act more responsibly.
Germany is a classical case where various lobbies managed to control the government not to follow the internationally accepted targets. But, recently the Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe published its decision declaring some of the government’s postponing decisions “unconstitutional” and asked the government to react very promptly – which actually happened. This is an encouraging case, which should mobilize various political movements in other countries to follow this route – which is obviously more effective than conventional political meetings and demonstrations.
We shall present the gap between the SDS 2030 commitments and the actual state of affairs, globally and by categories of countries. Will present some best practice cases – demonstrating what can be achieved if governments are really doing what they can in terms of legislation and effective measures encouraging businesses and people to operate and live more sustainably.
In December, EU leaders agreed to set an ambitious target to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 55% compared to 1990 levels by 2030. The increase from an earlier reduction target of 40% was proposed by the European Commission in September 2020 but was met with resistance in some EU states. EU greenhouse gas emissions dropped by 24% between 1990 and 2019, according to the Commission. The economy, meanwhile, grew around 60% during the same period. The new plan will require major overhauls of the energy and transport sectors as well as a huge push to renovate and retrofit buildings to make them energy-efficient and able to charge electric vehicles. Massive investments will be needed to help those countries with a higher reliance on fossil fuel to manage the transition, EU officials have said. Moreover, the UK government already accounted that it is aiming to cut its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 78% by 2035 compared with 1990 levels.
Germany, like other European Union countries, aims to cut emissions by 55% by 2030 compared with 1990 levels. More precisely, Germany has managed to cut its annual emissions from the equivalent of 1.25 billion tons of carbon dioxide in 1990 to about 740 million tons last year — a reduction of more than 40%. The current target would require cuts of 178 million tons by 2030, but a reduction of 281 million tons in each of the following decades.
Legislation passed in 2019 set specific targets for sectors such as housing and transport for that period, but not for the long-term goal of cutting emissions to ‘net zero’ by 2050. At the end of April, Germany's government announced more ambitious plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said Germany would now aim for a 65% cut in carbon emissions by 2030 and 88% by 2040. Under the new targets, Germany will also aim for nearly net-zero emissions by 2045, rather than 2050 as initially planned, he said.
"That is a fair offer for the younger generations in that we are not leaving the biggest burden for the future," said environment minister Svenja Schulze, "Each decade, each generation takes responsibility."
The Constitutional Court ruled that Germany must update its climate law by the end of next year to set out how it will bring net carbon emissions down to almost zero by 2050, to avoid saddling the young with a disproportionate impact from climate change.
The cases in Germany are part of a global effort by climate activists to force governments to take urgent action to tackle climate change. Among the first successful cases was brought in the Netherlands, where the Supreme Court two years ago confirmed a ruling requiring the government to cut emissions by at least 25% by the end of 2020 from benchmark 1990 levels.
Japan has also revised upwards its 2030 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction target and is now aiming for a 46% reduction on 2013 levels, compared to 26% previously. Tokyo has been considering a possible upgrade of its previous target, of a 26% reduction by 2030 from levels in the 2013-14 financial year, to bring it in line with its ambition to achieve a decarbonised society by 2050. Various industries have expressed support for Tokyo's 2050 decarbonisation goal and committed to making their operations carbon neutral. But the more ambitious 2030 GHG reduction target is expected to force heavy-emitting industries, such as the power and steel sectors, to speed up their decarbonisation process.
Furthermore, in a speech at the Climate Ambition Summit 2020, Chinese President Xi Jinping committed to a number of new climate targets. China will lower carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by 65% from 2005 levels, increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 25% by 2030, increase forest stock by 6 billion cubic meters above 2005 levels and bring the total installed capacity of wind and solar power to over 1,200 GW by 2030.
Following is a statement from Manish Bapna, Executive Vice President and Managing Director, World Resources Institute: “The climate targets China announced today offer a down payment towards its historic pledge to reach carbon neutrality before 2060. To fulfill its goal to reach net-zero carbon emissions before 2060, China should commit to stronger near-term targets ahead of the COP26 summit next year. The strengthened renewable energy, carbon intensity, and forest targets are steps in the right direction, but recent World Resources Institute’s analysis shows that China would benefit more economically and socially if it aims higher, including by peaking emissions as early as possible.”
Climate change already affects millions of Americans and spur destructive and costly hurricanes, wildfires, heatwaves and other extreme weather. Thus, U.S. President Joe Biden made tackling the climate crisis a core pillar of his presidency. Let us just point out re-joining the Paris Agreement and activating agencies across the federal government to be part of the climate change solution.
The first U.S. target under the 2015 Paris Agreement aimed to reduce annual climate pollution 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025, a milestone toward the country’s long-term goal of reducing emissions 80% below 2005 levels by mid-century. Consistent with the latest science, President Biden signed an executive order on January 27, 2021, calling for the United States to achieve net-zero emissions by no later than 2050.
Based on available research, Greg Carlock and Dan Lashof from World Resources Institute listed five reasons why the United States should cut its emissions in half by 2030.
A stronger U.S. emissions-reduction target is achievable and necessary. Preliminary estimates show that economy-wide emissions fell by 10.3% between 2019 and 2020, or 21% between 2005 and 2020. This technically means the United States met its commitment to reduce emissions by 17% below 2005 levels by 2020 under the Copenhagen Accord and appears to put the country on track to meet its 2025 goal. However, this decline in 2020 was mostly driven by the Covid-19 lockdowns and economic recession; without a green recovery, emissions will likely rise again as the economy rebounds, putting the United States off-track for achieving its 2025 target. To ensure emissions not revert to pre-pandemic levels, the United States must respond to the Covid-19 crisis by investing in clean energy and deploying a whole-of-society approach to tackle the climate crisis.
A stronger emissions-reduction target would boost American businesses and support millions of jobs. According to a recent WRI report on America’s New Climate Economy, the low-carbon transition is an immense opportunity for the U.S. economy. Even now, 41 U.S. states are growing their economies while also reducing their emissions.
The types of investments that support an ambitious 2030 emissions-reduction target would also support economic recovery after Covid-19.
A 50% emissions-reduction target would serve as a north star for greater domestic climate action.
An ambitious U.S. climate goal would inspire the international community to take bolder climate action.
So far, the continent of Africa has committed to cut 32% of emissions by 2030. The continent is currently developing a strategy for greenhouse gas emissions to be presented to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change before COP 26 in November. Africa is sometimes better known for its vulnerability to climate change than its action on the problem – but a set of African cities intend to change that. That means achieving “zero carbon” city economies by 2050 - with climate-changing emissions eliminated or dramatically reduced and any small remaining emissions offset by other green actions. Under the new commitments, cities will work to reduce emissions in domains such as transport, buildings, energy production and waste management – an effort some have already started. Achieving this objective will require significant work. According to the World Bank, of the top 10 big world cities with the lowest climate-changing emissions, only one – Johannesburg – is in Africa.
South Africa recently published its draft climate plan which sees the country proposing ambitious cuts to its emissions by 2030. The government launched a consultation on its updated climate plan to run until the end of May, with a view to submitting a final document to the United Nations ahead of the Cop26 climate talks in Glasgow in November. Under the plan, South Africa will limit its annual greenhouse gas emissions to 398-440 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent by 2030. This cuts emissions by 28% compared with its 2015 pledge, which capped annual emissions at 614Mt of CO2. It relies on “a very ambitious power sector investment plan” and the implementation of a green transport strategy, energy efficiency programmes, and a carbon tax to meet the goal.
Are we far away from target?
The emissions gap has grown significantly since 2010 when the first Emissions Gap Report was produced by the United Nations Environment Programme. Insufficient climate action during the past decade means that transformational development pathways are now required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on time.
Professor Harald Winkler wrote: “There are three reasons for the gap: a 14% increase in emissions from 2008 to 2018; global agreement on a lower limit on global temperature; and insufficient commitments by countries.”
Among the top seven emitting countries or regions, only one has lower emissions (the EU), another slightly lower (India), three show no change (the US, Russia and China) and two are higher (Brazil and Indonesia). Together with other countries, the overall trend of rising emissions has not been reversed over the past 10 years. The time window for halving global emissions has narrowed. “In plain language, a decade of insufficient political action on climate change means that nations must now do four times the work – or do the same work in one-third of the time – to comply with the climate pact they made in Paris. The fewer actions countries take collectively to cut carbon, the higher the temperature increase and the more severe the impacts. The poor, who are least responsible for greenhouse gas emissions, suffer the most from its impacts.”
The gap is so huge that governments, the private sector and communities need to make their climate pledges more ambitious. Instead of developing in a way that involves high consumption and high emissions, countries need to provide people with basic needs through low emissions and sustainable development. Action is now required from all countries.
From this mixed picture, described above, we can draw two conclusions:
- the challenge is bigger than considered till recently;
- if governments are ready to act, even more can be achieved than agreed in Paris. Among the household emissions in UK the domains where the biggest improvements were achieved over the last two decades are: waste, electricity and heating. The worst has been aviation – having increased its emissions over the two decades by over 100%. This means that we will have to fly less until planes will be running on electricity (which has been successfully started by Pipistrel from Slovenia – developing production of small aircrafts in China and India).
(Article prepared by the KEN Secretariat: prof. dr. Ajda Fošner and prof. dr. Boris Cizelj).
Sources used and further reading
G. Carlock, D. Lashof, 5 Reasons the US Should Cut its GHG Emissions in Half by 2030, 24 February 2021.
EuroNews, German top court orders government to set post-2030 climate goals, 29 April 2021.
ESI Africa, South Africa proposes cutting emissions by one third by 2030, 8 April 2021.
Reuters, Germany sets tougher CO2 emission reduction targets after top court ruling, 5 May 2021.
R. Suda, Japan sets tougher 2030 emissions target, 22 April 2021.
H. Winkler, Global emissions are way off target: what needs to happen, 15 March 2020.
WRI, China Commits to Stronger Climate Targets at Climate Ambition Summit, 12 December 2020.
Global Sustainable Development Report 2020.
Germany sets tougher emissions target after court ruling.
Top court: Germany must set clear post-2030 climate goals.
EU agrees on tougher climate goals for 2030.
African cities pledge to cut climate emissions to zero by 2050.