In the Climate Agreements, countries stated their intention to do everything they can to stop global warming. But what are those promises leading to in practice? Wageningen professor Niklas Höhne is the man behind the Climate Tracker, which shows whether governments are doing what they said they would do for the climate. “Some countries don’t have any plans at all for implementing the measures. This is very worrying.”
According to the Paris Climate Agreement (2015), the average rise in global temperatures needs to be kept well below two degrees Celsius. The 190 countries that signed the agreement have undertaken to do their best to restrict the increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. To achieve this, net emissions of greenhouse gases must be reduced to zero by 2050.
In climate negotiations such as the summits in Paris and Glasgow, countries present their plans for reducing emissions of CO₂ and other greenhouse gases. They intend to combat deforestation, reduce methane emissions or stop using coal. It sounds as if a lot is going to be done over the next while to save the climate (and ourselves). But how do we know whether all these activities are actually happening and whether they will be enough
The NewClimate Institute in Berlin is researching this in partnership with Climate Analytics (Berlin) and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. This consortium examines all the efforts and intentions of the various countries and assesses whether they are doing enough to make good on the international agreements in Paris and Glasgow. Professor Niklas Höhne — who has a chair in the Environmental Sciences Group in Wageningen and is associated with the Wageningen Institute for Environmental and Climate Research (WIMEK) — founded the NewClimate Institute and took the initiative for the consortium.
Höhne explains that there are many complicating factors in determining whether a country is on course to fulfil its promises. “Different methods are used to quantify the emissions. It is also often unclear how emissions will change due to population growth, an ageing population profile or increasing prosperity. Nor is it always clear exactly what the proposals involve. In short, we encounter numerous sources of uncertainty in the figures. We then use those figures in a climate model that has its own uncertainties.”
“But even without clear-cut figures, we can still conclude that we are a long way off achieving the targets set out in Paris. If we don’t do anything, we will have global warming of an estimated 2.4 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. Some of the participating countries don’t have any plans at all for implementing measures before 2030. This is very worrying.”
Climate Action Tracker
The results of the study can be found on the website Climate Action Tracker. This shows for each country whether its plans are sufficient to achieve the climate goals. Anyone looking at the tracker will soon see that only a few countries are reasonably on course: Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Kenya, Morocco, Nepal, Nigeria, Gambia and the United Kingdom. Major emissions producers such as Russia and the United States are doing abysmally.
Höhne thinks the Climate Action Tracker can help people and organisations to push ‘their’ governments to do better. “There is always the question of whether companies and governments are genuinely doing a good job or are merely ‘greenwashing’. Companies like to project a green image: ‘if you fly with our airline you will be offsetting the CO₂ emissions from your flight.’ They make a serious effort to cultivate that image but it is almost impossible for consumers to check whether they in fact do what they say they do. The same applies to governments. We are working hard to check whether countries are living up to their stated goals. Voters and NGOs can use the information we make available in the Climate Action Tracker to hold governments to account for their actions. Or lack of action.”