The Net Zero Emissions Race

On the back of the recent United Nations Climate Action Summit, we came across this interactive map where you can explore the different targets and commitments that countries, cities and companies have made. The same site is also tracking announcements made at major climate action events and summits that have not yet been officially reported.

Here are a couple of the interesting announcements made at the Climate Action Summit:

  • 65 countries and major sub-national economies (e.g. California) have committed to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050
  • Many smaller countries, including Small Island Developing States and Least Developed Countries, were among those who made the biggest pledges, despite the fact the they have contributed the least to the problem
  • France announced that it would not enter into any trade agreement with countries that have policies counter to the Paris Agreement
  • The Russian Federation announced that they will ratify the Paris Agreement, bringing the total number of countries that have joined the Agreement to 187

The stated purpose of the summit was to “Raise ambition and increase climate action.” Many countries have made ambitious commitments, however, the three countries responsible for the largest share of emissions – China, the United States, and India – remained reluctant to commit to tougher climate targets. They offered either nothing or very weak commitments to reducing their emissions further to the commitments already made. The top 3 emitters globally account for 48% of total emissions. To be fair to India though, the already have some fairly ambitious emission reduction targets and they produce only 2.2 tCO2-e per capita1, compared to the United States which produces 19.3 tCO2-e per capita1.

Interestingly, Australia (with emissions of 22.2 tCO2-e per capita1) had no representatives present, and they showed no indication of enhanced plans or ambitions. On a lighter note, on the interactive map mentioned above you can explore the cities, companies, and regions within the less concerned countries that are making helpful commitments!

For reference, here are New Zealand’s overall targets:

  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 30% less than 2005 levels by 2030
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 50% less than 1990 levels by 2050
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050 (bill not yet confirmed – expected confirmation by end of 2019. This target will replace the previous 2050 target if passed)

So how is New Zealand looking in comparison to the rest of the world? Are our targets ambitious enough? Well we are not doing too badly in the Net Zero Emissions Race, assuming the bill gets passed. We have a lot of work to do to reach this target, and a sense of urgency is becoming clear around the world. It will be interesting to see the effect that small countries making big commitments, along with public pressure, will have on some of the large economies that have less ambitious targets.

There are many challenges ahead for all of us, and these will take some creative solutions to overcome. Avoiding these issues is not an option, because as the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said, you don’t negotiate with nature.