The 2015 Paris Agreement saw 196 world leaders collectively vow for greater action on climate change mitigation through greenhouse gas reduction targets, with countries committing to annual Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), outlining national strategies for reducing their respective share of planet-warming emissions by 2030. Now, more than five years on, some would say little to no progress has been made, with experts saying the accords are inadequate in preventing global temperatures from rising 1.5 degrees Celsius. Climate change remains one of the biggest threats to global security, even as nations continue to ramp up their near and long-term targets in combating the escalating environmental crisis. But which countries currently boast the most ambitious emission reduction targets, and what exactly do they hope to achieve between now, 2030 and beyond?
Which Nations Have the Most Ambitious Goals for Climate Action?
The United States
The US propelled itself to one of the most ambitious climate targets yet, following President Joe Biden’s recent announcement of the country’s new goal to slash economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions to 50% below 2005 levels by 2030. These latest targets, announced prior to Biden’s virtual climate summit of more than 40 world leaders, would be the strongest contribution by any major economy in regards to the amount of carbon to be cut.
With US emissions currently 20% below 2005 levels – a number likely to increase post-COVID economic recovery – the country may experience the fastest economic and social change among other major greenhouse gas emitters due to decarbonisation throughout the next decade. The US still has much work to do, however, as its greenhouse gas emissions remain among the highest globally and are likely to stay that way even if the 2030 target is met. The country is second only to China as the largest emitter of carbon globally.
Nationwide efforts against the climate crisis were categorised as “critically insufficient” last year according to Climate Action Tracker (CAT), following the Trump administration’s repeated climate antagonism and withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.
The United Kingdom
Despite Biden’s target being one of the more aggressive near-term goals among the US’s wealthy, industrialised counterparts, such targets still fall short compared to what regions such as the UK and the European Union have already pledged.
The UK government in April announced that it will set the “world’s most ambitious climate change target”, in which the country aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a whopping 78% by 2035 compared to 1990 levels. The goal took effect in late June after being put out as part of the UK’s sixth carbon budget in December 2020, although many environmentalists were quick to point out the government’s consistent failures to deliver on previous targets set by its independent Climate Change Committee (CCC).
Advised by the CCC, this latest goal seeks to restrict the total amount of emissions over a five-year period. This year’s targets cover the country’s share of international aviation and shipping, after it was excluded from previous carbon budgets.
Despite the UK being able to cut its emissions by 44% between 1990 and 2018, the British Parliament made the declaration of a “climate emergency” in 2019.
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Table 1: Nations with the most ambitious climate commitments. Source: Quartz
The European Union (EU)
Much like the UK, the EU has also recently adopted an ambitious set of targets in a bid to curb the climate threat. In a new law implemented by the EU Parliament, the 27-member bloc has pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030 compared with 1990 levels, though the parliament has made attempts to push for an even higher target of 60%.
The latest target, announced prior to Biden’s virtual climate summit in April, sets a limit on the total levels of carbon dioxide removal that count towards the 2030 target, helping to ensure member states work actively to lower emissions. Moreover, the EU Commission has also announced a new collection of climate laws last month to support the union’s long-term targets.
The EU constitutes around a fifth of the world’s economy and was the third largest emitter of carbon emissions in 2019, accounting for 9% of global carbon dioxide emissions. The bloc has repeatedly stressed climate change as a key issue for Europe, stating its commitment to become the first “climate neutral continent” by 2050.
Japan’s government raised the bar on their climate ambitions in April, strengthening their emission reduction targets to 45% from 2013 levels by 2030. Prior to this, the country’s target stood at 26%. The target was initially set for a 40% reduction before being bumped up to 45% soon after.
Since taking over from Shinzō Abe, current Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has further emphasised the dire need for greater climate action, pledging net-zero emissions by 2050. According to Climate Change Tracker (CAT), a 60% reduction would be “challenging” for the East Asian nation, but imperative if it wants to align with the targets set within the Paris Agreement.
In the past year, the country’s government was heavily criticised for its “disappointing” lack of ambition after it resisted international pressure to increase its 2030 climate goals.
Featured image by: Flickr