Climate Change

Climate Change Performance Index: Biggest emitters fail to make climate protection grade

Published : November 10, 2021 17:10 IST

Renewables are intrinsic to reaching climate goals. Photo: picture-alliance/dpa

Climate protection is improving, but a new analysis shows the world's 61 biggest emitters have a lot more to do.

Developments in renewable energy expansion, climate policy and a coal phase-out offer reasons to hope, but the pace of transformation is still worryingly slow and far behind what's required to stop runaway global heating, according to this year's Climate Change Performance Index. The top three spots on the index remained empty again this year as not a single country is on a pathway to keeping warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) — the Paris Agreement threshold for warming — according to an assessment of 60 countries plus the E.U., who are collectively responsible for 90 per cent of global CO2 emissions.

German-based NGO Germanwatch and the NewClimate Institute, which supports countries to design, evaluate and implement sustainable energy policies, publish the index yearly as a way to compare countries' climate performance using common criteria. Scientists score nations based on CO2 emissions, the percentage of renewables in the energy mix, the pace of clean expansion, and what lawmakers are doing to implement climate change policy.

Scandinavia, the U.K. and Morocco ahead of the curve

Norway scored the first-ever "very high" in any of the index categories for its progress in renewable energy. And 15 countries were awarded "high" in the overall ratings table that takes in all four categories — that's up from 14 states last year. Denmark, Sweden and Norway were top of the class, placing fourth, fifth and sixth respectively thanks to the strides made in green energy expansion and climate policy. Scandinavia is a role model for ambitious climate protection, according to the report.

"We're at the beginning of a decade that will mainly be about implementing the climate targets that have been set," said Niklas Höhne of the Cologne-based NewClimate Institute and one of the report's authors. "Denmark, Sweden and Norway, like Great Britain and Morocco, are doing much better than the rest of the world."

Germany moves up to spot 13

France, Luxembourg and Germany have moved into the "green zone" on the index's rating table thanks to improvements in their performance. Europe's economic powerhouse, Germany, had been languishing mid-table since 2013 but has bounced back up the ranks to place 13. Still, index co-author Jan Burck from Germanwatch warns that it's too early to celebrate as the rating also includes the rather fuzzy climate policy category. The country has set itself ambitious goals but "politics hasn't provided a sufficient answer on how to reach those climate targets."

High per capita emissions and the long-stalled expansion of renewable energy are Germany's main stumbling blocks. "We need a 100-day plan under the new German government right at the beginning of its term and then serious progress across all sectors," said Thea Uhlich from Germanwatch, who co-authored the index. That, she added, includes phasing out coal by 2030, a turbo-charged expansion of green energy sources and emissions cuts in the transport sector.

COP26: Speedier coal phase-out raises hopes

The E.U. taken as one is at the upper end of the mid-table rankings when it comes to climate performance. But some member states, namely Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania and the Czech Republic, are performing poorly. Announcements coming out of the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, are raising hopes that could change though, Germanwatch's Jan Burck told DW. Several countries have said they plan to phase out coal within the next 15 years and that is not reflected in the current index.

"Most interestingly, many Eastern European countries that are extremely dependent on coal, including Poland, have signed onto this agreement. And South Africa is coordinating with some Western states like Germany to phase out coal more quickly with their support," Burck said. Under the new plans, these countries could move up the index ranking next year. Right now, South Africa is considered "low" and Poland "very low." Russia and Australia are trailing behind the U.S. and Algeria at the bottom of the table in the "red" zone. Only South Korea, Taiwan, Canada, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Kazakhstan perform worse.

China weak, small boost for the USA

The world's biggest emitter China is designated "low" and has slipped four places to 37. High emissions and poor energy efficiency are the biggest problems for the People's Republic. But one area in which it is doing well is renewable energy expansion. At 23rd on the index, it's ahead of Germany.

The first year of Joe Biden's presidency has had some positive impacts on the world's second-largest emitter, the USA. It climbed up from last place to 55 but still has a long way to go. The country scored "very low" in greenhouse gas emissions, renewable energy expansion, and energy use. It was an improved climate policy and the country's new 2030 climate targets that gave the U.S. a bump, said NewClimate Institute's Niklas Höhne. "We have to see in the coming years whether Biden's policies actually bear fruit," Höhne said.

Could India slip down the rankings?

There are fears that India is at a turning point for the worse. Currently listed as "good" and in tenth place, the country has benefited from relatively low per capita emissions. But these are on the rise and only strong climate targets coupled with ambitious implementation will prevent it crashing down the index rankings, according to the authors. Still, the country's Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a revised climate protection plan for 2030 during the World Leaders Summit at the COP26. "If these new goals are backed up with sector targets and well implemented, India would be well on its way," the index authors wrote.

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