The Times Square Ball has dropped, marking a new year for the western calendar — and growing sense for climate progress. Just days before the turning of the calendar, new German Minister of Economy and Climate Protection Robert Habeck told German national weekly Die Zeit, “We will probably miss our targets for 2022. ... Even for 2023 it will be difficult enough. We are starting with a drastic backlog.” He said the new year would be “exhausting” for the ministry.
While other nations haven’t made such bold announcements, organizations like the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) have made it clear that, as a whole, G20 members are projected to fall short of their 2030 pledges. The Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) updated during the recent U.N. climate conference only shave about eight percent off of predicted 2030 emissions, the UNEP shared in its Emissions Gap Report from last October. If nations were preparing to meet the 1.5 °C Paris goal, they would have pursued a 55 percent drop, the UNEP added.
Clearly Germany isn’t the only nation falling behind. As the new year begins, it’s useful to take a look at the trajectories of the world’s top greenhouse gas emitters. Habeck noted that Germany will focus in part on a doubling or more of the number of wind turbines built this year. On that point, what sort of hard work is ahead for other nations, and where are the open doors and where is resistance?
Generating over half of the world’s coal energy and about a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, China takes its rightful place at the top of the list. The industrial powerhouse has remained the top investor in renewable energy since 2013, when it overtook Europe, but it has set modest climate goals, such as reaching peak carbon dioxide emissions before 2030 and becoming carbon neutral by 2060. We may see a shift in these goals in 2022. In a piece for The Conversation, Professor of Environmental Diplomacy at DePaul University Phillip Stalley predicted that the increased number of climate pledges announced at last year’s climate summit, as well as a new and unexpected partnership with the U.S., could help to nudge China toward more ambitious targets.
Yes, with its new administration, the United States has reentered the global stage as a climate leader. But actually taking such action has proven to be difficult. While Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure package has passed through Congress, a larger spending bill has been stalled. The administration has indicated that it may rely more heavily on executive orders and rules to achieve climate progress. At the end of December, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced an increase in vehicle mileage standards to 40 miles per gallon by 2026. And earlier in the December, Biden signed an executive order that sets emissions goals across federal operations.
While the European Union has been a climate leader in many ways — even pursuing the goal of making Europe the first climate neutral continent by 2050 — the research group Climate Action Tracker has rated its overall efforts “insufficient.” A study published late last year found that Europe will miss its 2030 target for reducing greenhouse gases by 55 percent by 20 years. Instead of relying on incremental change, the EU should start taking bold action, Olivia Lazard writes for Carnegie Europe.
Lazard finds hope in the constitutional court ruling from March that concluded that Germany’s climate measures were insufficient to ensure a safe future and urged quick and decisive action. The government amended its Climate Protection Act in response, signaling hope for the role that democratic processes can play in keeping governments accountable and progressing, even if it requires, to quote Habeck yet again, “exhausting” work on the climate progress front for the time being.
Image credit: American Public Power Association via Unsplash
Roya Sabri is a writer and graphic designer based in Illinois. She writes about the circular economy, advancements in CSR, the environment and equity. As a freelancer, she has worked on communications for nonprofits and multinational organizations. Find her on LinkedIn.