According to a 2018 UN report, global CO2 emissions have increased by 50% since 1990. This guide looks at what is being done to combat this on a big scale - from national policies to international agreements.
The Paris climate agreement
In 2015, 195 countries and the European Union signed the Paris climate agreement. It set the target of preventing global temperatures from rising 2°C above pre-industrial levels, with a further goal of limiting the rise to 1.5°C if possible. The WWF called it ‘the first truly global commitment to fight the climate crisis’.
Countries must set their own targets and dates for when they will fulfil them. For example, France plans to ban all petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040. Every five years, countries have to report back with their progress.
However, there have been some criticisms of the agreement. A 2017 UN report discussed the ‘emissions gap’ - the gap between the targets set out in the Paris agreement and what countries are actually doing to meet those targets. The report predicted a rise in temperature of 3°C by 2100 if countries continue with their current activities.
Let’s take a look at what some countries have been doing to fulfil their promises, and how effective this has been so far.
According to Climate Action Tracker, Morocco is one of only two countries with a plan to reduce its CO2 emissions to a level consistent with the Paris agreement’s goal of a 1.5°C temperature rise.
Morocco’s Plan Vert (green plan) sets out its strategy to tackle the threat of climate change. As part of this, the government has lifted all subsidies on diesel and gas, to encourage consumers to use cleaner energy sources. They’ve also introduced financial incentives to persuade farmers to grow tree crops instead of cereals. This will help to protect biodiversity and counter the deforestation that frequently occurs to make space for agriculture.
The plan aims for 42% of Morocco’s electricity to come from renewables by 2020, and 52% by 2030. This has led to investment in public projects such as the Noor Ouarzazate complex - the largest concentrated solar farm in the world, which covers an area the size of 3,500 football fields. It generates enough electricity to power two cities the size of Marrakesh.
The Indian government has three main goals to tackle climate change:
- Generate 40% of India’s electricity using renewables by 2030. India currently invests more in renewables than in fossil fuels, and in 2018 the Environment Minister announced it was due to meet its 2030 targets ahead of schedule.
- Create a ‘carbon sink’ by replanting trees that have been lost to deforestation. The aim is to create enough tree cover to remove 2.5-3 billion tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere. So far, 15,000km2 of tree cover has been created under this plan - that’s an area just larger than Northern Ireland.
- Reduce the emission intensity of the economy (the amount of greenhouse gases emitted for every pound or dollar of a nation’s GDP). India has so far reduced its emission intensity by 25% since 2005, and it aims for a further 8-10% reduction by 2030.
However, Carbon Action Tracker calculates that India’s strategy will only be compatible with a 1.5°C temperature rise if the country abandons its plans to build new coal-fired power plants.
The European Union
At the Paris climate agreement, the EU set a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030. According to Climate Action Tracker, if fully enacted, the EU’s present policies would exceed that target.
One of the ways the EU plans to meet these targets is by reducing emissions from transport. The European Parliament has introduced financial incentives for cities and countries to switch their public transport systems to green alternatives that use electricity or biofuels.
Individual countries within Europe are also working towards their own targets. In Germany, for example, 26,772 wind turbines have been built since 1995, making it the third largest producer of wind energy in the world. The Swedish government has been building ‘eco-quarters’ in its cities: old industrial sites turned into eco-friendly homes powered by the biogas produced from food waste.
However, the EU is still the third largest emitter of CO2 behind China and the United States. Even if these targets were achieved, it would still only limit the global temperature rise to 2°C, rather than the Paris agreement’s desired target of 1.5°C.
At the time of signing the Paris agreement, Carbon Action Tracker ranked the US targets as ‘insufficient’. Since then, they have been demoted to ‘critically insufficient’. This is because, since 2017, the American government has relaxed its environmental regulations, rather than tightening them. Requirements for energy-efficient light bulbs have been scrapped; it’s been proposed that vehicle efficiency standards should be frozen after 2020; and there are plans to relax rules on methane leaks during oil and gas production.
In June 2017, President Donald Trump announced his intention to withdraw the United States from the Paris agreement, citing concerns that it would hurt the US economy. However, after this announcement, 3,800 leaders from US cities, states, tribes and organisations formed the Climate Alliance. In doing so, they pledged to stick to the US’s Paris targets, even after it left the agreement.
All 24 states that entered the alliance have set a target of at least a 26-28% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions below 2005 levels by 2025. Other states have gone even further: California has set a goal of complete carbon neutrality by 2045. Colorado has made it a legal requirement for car manufacturers to make at least 5% of their sales electric vehicles by 2023.