For most major carbon-polluting countries, the promise of tackling climate change is faster than it is. In the United States, President Joe Biden taught this the hard way. Among the top 10 carbon emitters, only the European Union has implemented policies that come close to or are in line with international targets to limit warming to just a few tenths of a degree, according to scientists and experts.
But Europe, which is experiencing a record heat wave this week and is hosting climate talks, also faces a brief period of harsh winters that could pull the continent and other countries, to a lesser extent, into higher, dirtier energy-driven deals, experts say. “Even if Europe meets all its climate targets and the rest of us don’t, we will lose everything,” said Kate Larsen, head of international energy and climate research for the Rhodium Group.
Emissions of heat-trapping gases won’t stop at national borders, and harsh weather won’t be felt across the northern hemisphere. It’s a great view. “There’s no way out, I’m afraid,” said climate scientist Bill Hare, CEO of Climate Analytics. His group collaborated with the New Climate Institute to create the Climate Action Tracker, which analyses countries’ climate goals and policies against those of the 2015 Paris Agreement.
The Tracker described as “inadequate” the policies and actions of the world’s two biggest carbon polluters, China and the US, as well as Japan, Saudi Arabia, and Indonesia. She called the policies of Russia and South Korea “inadequate” and Iran “not critical enough.” The hare says the no. 3 emitter in India “remains a mystery.” “We have lost ground for ambitious targets” such as keeping global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) or 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times, according to veteran international climate negotiator Nigel Purvis of Climate Advisers.
The world has warmed by 1.1 degrees (2 degrees Fahrenheit) since industrial times. Seven years ago, when almost every nation in the world was preparing for what would become the Paris climate agreement, “it was all about ambition and setting ambitious goals,” Larsen said. “Now we’re entering a whole new phase that’s part of the implementation… I don’t think the international community knows how to execute.” Other countries and the United Nations can force countries to set targets, but creating laws and regulations is a harder sell. While Europe has “a long history of maintaining and enforcing existing policies,” Larsen said, that is not the case in the United States.
The U.S. is on track to cut emissions 24% to 35% below 2005 levels by 2030, just shy of the country’s pledge to cut emissions by 50% to 52% by then, according to a recent analysis by ‘e Rhodium Group. . The offer is one possibility, said Larsen, who co-authored the report. Congress — notably Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia — rejected the president’s climate change bill, and the Supreme Court upheld the power plant regulations. Congressional action “is a tremendous opportunity to pursue our goal,” Larsen said.
The second window refers to “a set of federal regulations that the Biden administration intends to issue.” “It’s two big decisions about whether the U.S. is going to achieve its goal and one that we largely missed. So in that sense, it’s very disappointing because these opportunities don’t come around often,” he said. Whether that happens “depends on what the administration does over the next three to 18 months.”