World leaders are meeting in New York for Monday Climate Action Summit. The goal of the summit, according to the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, is to encourage countries to take climate change seriously.
“Don’t come up with a speech” Guterres warned. “Come with a plan.”
So far, international efforts have fallen short. Four years after the signing of the Paris climate agreement, countries’ pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions remain too weak to meet the agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius. By the end of the century, temperatures are expected to rise by 3.2 degrees compared to pre-industrial times, if current policies are not strengthened, according to a new estimate of Climate Action Tracker.
But that does not mean that countries have made no progress. A handful of nations have managed to reduce their emissions – and some have made great strides in specific areas.
Now, experts say, it’s time for everyone to start the game when they submit their next round of climate commitments in 2020. (You can follow Paris’s latest promises at the World Resources Institute Weather Observation.)
As the summit begins, here are six countries that have already taken significant action on climate change and how they have done it.
India ranks second in the world in population and third in greenhouse gas emissions (fourth if you consider the European Union as a single country). But it also tops two other lists: It is one of the few countries on track to deliver on its climate promise under the Paris agreement and one of the few whose commitment is consistent with maintaining warming at 2 degrees C.
Much of India’s success is due to its enthusiasm for solar energy.
A worker goes through solar panels at Roha Dyechem power plant in Bhadla, India. The country has dramatically increased its solar power capacity in recent years.
(Sharma Money / AFP / Getty Images)
In 2010, the country established the National Solar Mission, which intended to add 20 gigawatts of solar capacity by 2022. The country surpassed that goal back in 2018 and now it must exceed its Paris promise to meet 40 percent of the country’s energy needs from non-fossil fuel by 2030.
India has achieved this by implementing a series of pro-solar policies, such as requiring utilities to buy solar energy and launching programs to expand off-grid solar power, bringing electricity to many villages in the process.
Free-falling prices for solar panels have lubricated the wheels, as has the low cost of labor in India. The government also helped by auctioning contracts, creating competition among developers. These factors combined to make India’s solar power the cheapest in the world.
India has more work to do, experts say. Most of its electricity still comes from coal-fired power plants, and the country continues to commission new ones, albeit less than planned a few years before the solar flare. But observers say it is a model for encouraging the rapid spread of renewable sources.
Other countries leading the way in expanding renewable energy are Morocco, Germany, Japan, and the USA – especially California.
Like the other Scandinavian countries, Norway takes climate change seriously. It has committed to reducing its emissions by 40% by 2030 and aims to achieve “Net zero” by 2050. But Norway’s biggest claim to fame is its aggressive effort to clean up its transportation industry.
As of 2017, plug-in hybrid and electric cars represented half of new cars sold in the country. And in March this year, only electric cars made up almost 60% of new car sales. By 2025, the government wants this number to be 100%.
Teslas park is very reserved for electric cars in Oslo, Norway. In March, more than half of the new cars sold in the country were electric.
(Pierre-Henry Deshayes / AFP / Getty Images)
“They are way ahead,” he said. Taryn Fransen, senior member of the World Resources Institute’s global climate program.
The government offers generous incentives for electric vehicles, such as waiving some of its famous taxes and offering owners many advantages, as only electric parking in cities. Norway has also invested in vehicle charging infrastructure and provides most of its electricity with clean hydropower.
To meet its climate goals, however, the country will have to deal with its industrial emissions and push its economy away from oil, a major export.
China has also invested heavily in low carbon transport. By absolute numbers, it is the largest electric car market in the world and has 99% of the world’s electric buses. There, the motivation is partly to clean urban air quality and stimulate domestic innovation.
California also deserves a nod, said Niklas Hoehne, a partner with the New Climate Institute, one of the organizations behind the Climate Action Tracker.
The rest of the world will benefit from the leadership of these governments, Hoehne said: With this new demand, “technology becomes cheaper and other countries can follow suit.”
Among developed countries, many experts point to the United Kingdom as the leader. Its greenhouse gas emissions have steadily declined since 1990 and have now fallen by over 40% – to levels never seen since the around 20º century. This is more than enough to fulfill the European Union’s commitment under the Paris agreement.
What really sets the UK apart, however, is its robust climate policy. “It is one thing to have a goal and another to have a legislative framework to achieve it,” Fransen said.
In 2008, the United Kingdom became Climate Change Law, a comprehensive law that set the country on the path of decarbonising its economy. It included a set of policies, from phasing out coal to strengthening building efficiency standards.
Perhaps the most important thing about the law, experts say, is that it sets short- and long-term emission reduction targets. It also set up an independent scientific commission to determine what these goals should be and to assess the country’s progress.
“That’s why it’s stable in different governments,” Hoehne said.
Indeed, despite the considerable political chaos the UK has suffered in recent years, its climate ambitions have not wavered. In fact, this year the country passed a measure requiring its emissions to reach net zero by 2050 – making it the first country with a legally binding commitment to do so. That would be consistent with limiting the heating to 1.5 degrees, Hoehne said.
“There is an end to fossil fuels in the UK and now everyone can plan with that vision,” he said.
As always, there are areas where the country can improve, he said. Emissions from cars went up last year, and some say the government is not doing enough to promote renewable energy.
The Gambia is a small country and has played almost no role in contributing to climate change. From a perspective, Los Angeles issues more in a few months than the entire Gambian nation in a year.
But, like many poor countries, the West African nation suffers in a warming world from rising sea levels, drought and other tensions. And it is already dealing with its own development challenges; about half of its population live in poverty.
The situation of developing countries – and the difficulties they face in rapidly decarbonising – has been a sticking point in international climate negotiations since the early 1990s. There is now a general consensus that poor countries should not have the same benchmark as the rich, who must rapidly reduce their emissions to zero to meet the objectives of the Paris agreement. Instead, each country is expected to do its fair share to solve the problem.
In the case of The Gambia, “What is considered fair to them is still to slightly increase their emissions, and that is what they are proposing,” Hoehne said.
In its Paris pledge, The Gambia has pledged to lower the rate at which its emissions will increase. By 2030, they will be 2.7% smaller than they would be in a business scenario as usual.
Even as its emissions rise, The Gambia is one of the few countries whose plans are consistent in maintaining global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius, according to Climate Action Tracker. (Morocco and the United Kingdom are other leaders.)
A 20 megawatt solar power plant is currently under development, which will increase the electricity supply by 20%.
And last year, the government launched a plan to restore large areas of carbon dioxide-sucking forests, mangroves and savannas. Estimates that approximately 50,000 families benefit from improved water quality and healthier landscapes.
For these projects, The Gambia is funded by the World Bank, the Green Climate Fund and other international partners. If the country can get more funding, it has promised to reduce its emissions by 45% below the usual business benchmark by 2030.
Switzerland is always on the rise in its efforts to deal with climate change. Its emissions have been declining since the 1970s. And in recent years, it has adopted policies that can attract US lawmakers – namely, voluntary programs and market-based measures.
For example, Switzerland early adopted a carbon tax (Sweden was first in 1990). The rate, as the Swiss prefer, was imposed in 2008 and as of 2018 charged $ 96 per tonne of carbon dioxide. (For comparison, the price in the California barter market is about $ 15).
Most carbon tax revenue – totaling $ 300 million – is returned to citizens, including as subsidies to workers in industries adversely affected by climate policy. About one third is for improving the efficiency of buildings and for research and development for …