Saudi Arabia, home of the world’s biggest industrial polluter, the state-owned oil company Aramco, has long been regarded as a climate villain, accused of collaborating with other energy-producing states at international negotiations to water down ambitions and obstruct progress.
Its 2015 NDC set a target of reducing emissions by up to 130 MtCO2e (million tonnes of CO2 equivalent) by 2030 compared with a business-as-usual scenario, a target that many analysts have described as inadequate. Assessing progress towards this modest goal has also proved impossible – the kingdom has not published any official projections of its emissions nor even defined the business-as-usual baseline it is measuring against. Independent assessments have concluded that based on the scant information that is available, the country is not on track to meet its pledge.
Yet under the influence of its young crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia aims to reduce its dependence on oil in the decades ahead in recognition its supplies are not infinite, demand is falling and the world is searching for less destructive alternatives.
To that end, it has announced a slew of environmental initiatives, including plans to generate 50% of the kingdom’s energy from renewables by 2030 and to plant 10bn trees, that have raised hopes it will take a more ambitious plan to Glasgow in November.
In remarks to a state media agency, Prince Mohammed drew a direct link between the climate crisis and the health of Saudi citizens, signalling a potential shift in the Saudi attitude towards environmental issues.
Analysts say achieving serious cuts in Saudi emissions would require significant changes that will be politically unpopular. Earlier grand announcements including plans to build massive solar farms have also failed to translate into meaningful action. But the Gulf state appears to be recognising that weaning itself off fossil fuels is becoming a political and economic imperative, as well as an environmental one. Michael Safi
South Africa published a draft updated NDC last month (March), with ambitious targets to limit its annual greenhouse gas emissions to 398-440 MtCO2e by 2030, but many campaigners and analysts raised significant concerns about its continuing commitment to coal, which supplies 85% of South Africa’s power.
A combination of the Covid-19 pandemic and a long term economic shift away from extractive industries and manufacturing has already helped South Africa move towards meeting some of its emission goals, but further progress will depend on massive investment in the country’s power sector, improvements in energy efficiency, a green transport strategy and a carbon tax.
Gwede Mantashe, minister of mineral resources and energy, last month announced plans for a GBP2bn investment in renewables to accelerate a shift from coal power generation, but again there are concerns that few of the measures outlined in the updated draft NDC are likely to be implemented in a timely fashion, if at all.
“South Africa’s target is far too weak … Our government’s answer is basically that they are going to continue polluting a lot for decades to come, but a little less more than they were going to do before,” said Dr Alex Lenferna, secretary of South Africa’s Climate Justice Coalition.
South Africa has suffered rolling power cuts over recent years, which have dealt a crippling blow to an already struggling economy, and are forecast to continue for at least five years. But money is short. South Africa has already accessed about $2bn a year in 2018 and 2019 to meet adaptation and mitigation needs but will need four times more annually by 2030 to meet the targets laid out in the NDC. Jason Burke in Johannesburg
While China’s leader, Xi Jinping, pledged in September 2020 that China will increase its NDC commitments in order to peak the country’s carbon emissions before 2030, details of how it would get there have not yet been released.
That “increased ambition” so far is not seen as ambitious enough; Climate Action Tracker, for instance, still rates China’s commitments as “highly insufficient”.
Reality paints a bleak picture. Recent major infrastructure investments as part of a Covid-19 stimulus package, and the new carbon emissions from furious steel, cement and glass production, coupled with three straight years of rollbacks on regulations restricting approvals of new coal-fired power plants, have clouded China’s ambitions.
Greenpeace findings released at the end of March suggest 46.1 GW of new coal capacity was greenlit in 2020, more than the combined total in the three previous years.
For Li Shuo, senior climate and energy policy officer at Greenpeace East Asia, clarity is still needed about whether or not China will introduce additional ambition over Xi’s pledge last autumn, something that would be key to determining whether China could peak closer to 2025 than 2030.
“One should really pay attention to the new ambition as opposed to the release of the [new] NDC, obviously the new ambition is the weighty stuff,” Li said.
But a joint statement issued by the US and China on Saturday has given some cause for optimism. Li welcomed the development. “The statement in my view is as positive as the politics would allow: it sends a very unequivocal message that on this particular issue [China and the US] will cooperate. Before the meetings in Shanghai this was not a message that we could assume.” Michael Standaert in Shenzen
Mexico was once considered an international climate leader. It was the first developing country to submit an NDC in 2015. Its NDC pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions 22% and black carbon emissions by 51% by 2030. Conditional reductions of 36% and 70% were also promised.
But its 2020 NDC disappointed climate campaigners, who said the country isn’t pursuing more ambitious targets.
“It should have been more ambitious to begin with [and] their target is to reduce emissions to business as usual,” said Carolina Herrera of the Natural Resources Defense Council, who called Mexico’s NDC “utterly deficient” and “disappointing”.
Mexico’s NDC promises nature based solutions such as protecting coastlines and reforestation, and plans also include refurbishing hydroelectric projects. The country also promises to slash emissions to 50% below 2000 levels by 2050.
But meanwhile, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has actively moved against clean energy. His government cancelled clean energy auctions. He pushed an electricity industry law through Congress in March, which forces the state-owned electricity company to dispatch energy from its own (often dirty) power plants over privately owned renewable producers.
“They’re favouring the public fossil fuel sector at the expense of renewable energy and, frankly, their own citizens,” said Herrera, manager for green finance and climate change at the NRDC’s Latin America Project. David Agren
Australia’s most recent NDC just repeated the 2030 emissions reduction target set at the Paris summit: a 26-28% cut below 2005 emissions levels.
No rationale has been given. The government had been advised to set a target equivalent to a 45-60% cut. Instead it just mirrored the reduction number set by the US under Barack Obama, but pushed the timeframe back five years.
Prime minister Scott Morrison has not set a net zero emissions target, saying only that the country would “preferably” reach that mark by 2050. Quite how that may happen is not clear. The government has not introduced substantial climate policies, and official government projections suggest it will fall short of what is widely considered an unambitious 2030 target.
There has been some progress. National emissions are already 18% below 2005 levels (largely due to cuts when the Labor opposition was in power) and cheap renewable energy is transforming the power grid at a rate faster than expected. But Australia still gets most of its electricity from burning coal, and emissions from the transport, mining and agriculture sectors are forecast to increase over the decade.
The Morrison government says it is taking a “technology, not taxes” approach to the climate crisis, but to date has committed just A$18bn over a decade to technologies including hydrogen, carbon capture and storage and soil carbon. Critics have pointed out it has not explained how or when this approach will deliver emissions cuts. Adam Morton in Sydney
More ambition is needed, say representatives from agribusiness, finance and academia, and business leaders. “Brazil was expected to present a more ambitious target than the previous one. We didn’t do that,” Carolina Genin, director of the climate programme at World Resources Institute Brasil, said. “In absolute terms, our ambition is lower.”
The 2020 NDC kept the pledge of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 37% by 2025, and 43% by 2030, compared with 2005 levels. But climate experts warned that the new NDC increases emissions by at least 400 MtCO2e, compared with the targets submitted in 2015.
To maintain the same absolute level of emissions, Brazil should update the cut to 57% by 2030, experts say. Jair Bolsonaro’s government, however, thinks the opposite. In the proposal submitted in December 2020, it said its NDC is “among the most ambitious in the world” and that, “as a developing country and a nation of late industrialization, Brazil’s historical contribution to climate change has been low”.
The proposal has one page for the NDC and eight for the information annexe, which is shorter than that from neighbours such as Argentina, Peru and Colombia. It also lacks details on how targets will be met, according to Genin: “We expected progress in sectoral goals, which were in the first NDC and do not appear in the second. These are important goals such as zero illegal deforestation, a commitment to restore 12 million hectares, among others.”
Brazil has been successful in combating deforestation of the Amazon in the past, a key factor in the country’s contribution to climate mitigation, “but the picture reversed dramatically in recent years”, Genin added.
Ricardo Salles, the minister of the environment, said it can reduce by 40% in one year the fast-paced deforestation of the Amazon – but only if the country receives US$1bn in foreign aid. Flavia Milhorance in Rio de Janeiro
Nigeria plans to achieve emissions reductions by massively expanding solar energy production in the country, investing in alternative renewable energy and improving processes used to produce oil and gas. It will use more natural gas and limit gas flaring.
It also hopes to bring solar power to 5m households or roughly 25 million people. For now, however, these remain ambitions.
In 2015 Nigeria pledged a 20% reduction in its annual greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 in relative terms, based on what it is projected to emit.
The pledge was updated in 2017, spelling out Nigeria’s commitments in more detail, but the fundamentals of its pledges were the same.
Since 2015 progress has been very slow, with some reports of regression. Nigeria’s pledges were based on the economy growing by 5% a year, roughly where economic growth was at the time of the agreement.
The economy has been in recession twice since 2015, in one of the toughest periods in a generation for Africa’s largest economy and oil producer. This is in part caused by steep drops in crude oil prices on which Nigeria still heavily relies.
A major part of Nigeria’s economic plan has been to expand the agriculture sector and make it more productive, implementing policies which critics say will increase emissions. Emmanuel Akinwotu in Lagos
The government of Justin Trudeau has cast itself as climate champions. In 2015, Canada initially committed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. A reduction of that scope would see emissions in the country from the current rate of about 730 megatonnes down to 511 megatonnes.
But the reality is far different, with a report this week showing emissions have only dropped 1% below 2005 levels – far off course.
“The trend is very clear: we’re still on track to miss our Paris pledge by quite a lot,” said Jessica Green, a professor of political science at the University of Toronto who specialises in climate governance. “We just don’t see what the interim steps are that will put us on the path to meet those targets.”
Governing Liberals have introduced legislation that would legally bind the government to net zero by 2050, but the bill has not yet progressed throughout parliament.
The bulk of Canada’s emissions come from its tar sands – one of the world’s largest petroleum reserves. Emissions from the tar sands continue to rise each year.
A recent court victory has received hopes for a nationwide carbon tax, which the government plans to raise to $170/tonne by 2030. But Green cautions the fight will probably be “politically difficult”, and one that might not be as effective as other policy measures, including electrifying parts of the country’s power grid that remain reliant on fossil fuels, making public transit free – and shutting down the tar sands.
Unlike many other industrialised nations, Canada has never met any of its emissions reduction targets – a custom the governing Liberals promised to end.
“I think that there’s kind of more openness to this idea that the government needs to really intervene more strongly,” said Green. But at the same time, there are still a lot of political challenges to make that a reality. Leyland Cecco in Toronto