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Most major nations are slow to act on climate change targets

WASHINGTON — For most major carbon-polluting countries, promising to fight climate change is much easier than actually doing so. In the United States, President Joe Biden learned this the hard way.

Of the 10 biggest carbon emitters, only the European Union has adopted policies close to or in line with international goals of limiting warming to a few tenths of a degree higher, according to scientists and experts who follow climate action in the world. country.

But Europe, which is going through a record heat wave and hosting climate talks this week, is also facing a near-term winter energy crisis, which could cause the continent to backtrack a bit and push for more. other countries to make longer and dirtier energy deals, experts said.

“Even if Europe meets all of its climate targets and the rest of us don’t, we’re all losers,” said Kate Larsen, head of international climate and energy for research firm Rhodium. Group. Emissions of heat-trapping gases do not stop at national borders, nor do the extreme weather conditions that are felt across the Northern Hemisphere.

“It’s a grim prospect. There’s no escaping it, I’m afraid,” said climate scientist Bill Hare, CEO of Climate Analytics. His group has partnered with the New Climate Institute to create the Climate Action Tracker, which analyzes nations’ climate goals and policies against the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement.

The tracker describes as “insufficient” the policies and actions of the world’s two biggest carbon polluters, China and the United States, as well as Japan, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia. He calls the policies of Russia and South Korea “grossly insufficient” and Iran “critically insufficient”. Hare says India, the No. 3 transmitter, “remains an enigma”.

“We are losing ground to ambitious goals” such as keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) or 1.5 Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times, said veteran international climate negotiator Nigel Purvis of Climate Advisers. The world has already warmed by 1.1 degrees (2 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times.

Seven years ago, when nearly every nation in the world was preparing for what would become the Paris climate accord, “it was all about ambition and setting ambitious goals,” Larsen said. “Now we are entering a new phase which is really about implementation…I don’t think the international community knows how to do implementation.”

Other nations and the United Nations can pressure countries to set goals, but enacting laws and rules is a harder sell. While Europe has succeeded with “a long history of implementing and reinforcing existing policies,” Larsen said, that is not the case in the United States. The United States is on track to reduce emissions 24% to 35% below 2005 levels by 2030, a far cry from the country’s commitment to reduce emissions by 50% to 52% during this period, according to a new analysis from the Rhodium Group.

Biden is running out of options, said Larsen, a co-author of the report. Congress — particularly West Virginia’s top Sen. Joe Manchin — is balking at the president’s climate legislation, and the Supreme Court has restricted regulation of power plants.

Congressional action “was a great window of opportunity that would have put us on track to achieve our goal,” Larsen said. A second window is available in “the suite of federal regulations the Biden administration plans to release.”

“These are the two big deciders on whether the United States will achieve its goal, and the one on which we have largely failed. So in that sense it’s a big miss because those opportunities don’t come around very often,” she said.

“The United States can come close” to achieving its goal, but it’s not close yet, Larsen said. Whether that happens “depends on the next three to 18 months on what the administration does.”

Other countries, particularly China, are watching what the United States is doing to fight climate change and are reluctant to step up if America isn’t doing much, Purvis and Hare said.

At the urging of activists and some Democrats, the Biden administration is considering declaring a national emergency over climate change and using special powers to reduce carbon pollution from power plants and vehicles. Calling it an emergency is not enough; what matters are the actions that follow, Purvis said.

Biden could impose a moratorium on federal land and water. He could reinstate a ban on US oil exports. It could increase its spending on wind and solar power. But all are subject to a conservative Supreme Court.

“The big question is where can Biden go with executive orders and how compelling will that be for other leaders?” said the hare.

Elsewhere in the world, “the Russian energy crisis has definitely been a major setback,” Hare said. It’s a short-term problem for Europe, and they’ve even relaxed some of their rules, but “their long-term policy framework is very strong, and it could help them double down on their alternative energy,” Larsen said. .

But the natural gas panic is pushing other countries, particularly in Africa, to jump on the bandwagon of liquefied natural gas, which still emits carbon. The pivot to LNG has added 15-20% to the amount used globally, Hare said.

Although there is a risk that Europe will add natural gas infrastructure that will be difficult to abandon, it seems that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has reinforced Europe’s resolve to reduce the energy influence of Russia and ditch fossil fuels, Purvis said.

There are other places where weaning the world off carbon seems more possible. A new report from the International Renewable Energy Agency has found that the cost of electricity from onshore wind fell 15% last year, offshore wind 13% and solar panels from 13% compared to 2020.

Meanwhile, electric vehicle sales in America are on the rise, and the time when they could hit “leakage speed” and really make a difference is on the horizon, Larsen said.

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Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter at @borenbears

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