Currently, as a planet, we have already reached the 1-degree Celsius temperature threshold increase, when compared to pre-industrial levels. This reality means that we only have between 0.5 and 1 degrees to spare if we are to meet the global targets outlined in the Paris Agreement. Making it under the 2-degree goal (which many argue should actually be 1.5-degree) to prevent catastrophic changes in the climatic system seems unlikely. Although carbon emissions plateaued for a few years, reports on 2017 and 2018 global greenhouse gases show that emissions are “accelerating ahead like a speeding freight train.”
However, the fear and apocalyptic nature of the impending impacts of climate change are not holding back several countries, who are emerging as leaders. Some are the usual suspects, championing climate mitigation, while others are taking a more pragmatic approach and demonstrating what adaptation and innovation look like.
In the Pacific, the Marshall Islands made groundbreaking news after becoming the first country to commit to going carbon neutral by 2050. In a global context, this announcement is only symbolic, as the country contributes less than 0.00001 percent to total global emissions. On a local level, it has significant implications. It’s part of the country’s net-zero strategy, which “in addition to seeking to slow climate change in the transport, electricity and waste sector, stresses the need to invest into adapting to freak weather events linked to global warming, from hurricanes to floods,” said President Hilda Heine at a UN Summit last year. As one of the most vulnerable nations to climate change, not surprisingly, adaptation is a priority. Ongoing efforts to protect the country include climate-proofing infrastructure, reinforcing shorelines, and strengthening food and water security; building a new island is a last-resort effort.
A quiet leader, Chile, has focused on preparing one of its major and most vulnerable industries, agriculture, for the effects of climate change. It has done so through a unique government agency, the Foundation for Agricultural Innovation, which is dedicated to discovering and implementing transformational agriculture technology to respond to climate change. Climate change is also taken seriously by the public, which is partly why it was possible for Chile to become the first country in South America to implement a carbon tax, despite 80% of the country’s energy needs being met through fossil fuels at the time of the announcement. Since then, in early 2018, Chile committed to not build any new coal-powered fire plants and has been developing a plan to phase out coal.
The Scandinavian countries, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, have been leading on climate change for decades now. They have provided an (until-recently ignored) example of how developed countries can move towards complete carbon neutrality while demonstrating economic growth and meeting their citizens’ needs. In Norway, despite much of the country’s wealth coming from petroleum, in 2017 half of its cars were powered by renewable energy. At the same time, 98% of its electricity generation comes from renewable energy, mostly hydropower. In a report released in Poland during COP24, Denmark ranked number one in mitigating climate change among 25 other major countries. This is no surprise, as Denmark is well-known for its strong bicycle culture and major wind energy industry. Meanwhile, Sweden has so perfected recycling that it imports trash to keep its recycling plants running. It has had one of the world’s highest carbon taxes and strictest environmental policies for the last couple of decades, but still boasts a strong and internationally competitive economy. Sweden is proof that climate action and economic growth aren’t mutually exclusive.
In Africa, Morocco is one of the countries leading the way; it has been ranked in the top 10 on the Climate Change Performance Index in recent years. Economic growth has been affected by severe drought, but Morocco has been quick to take the impacts of climate change seriously. The government developed a Green Strategy (Plan Vert), which lifts fossil fuel subsidies, outlines ambitious targets, and protects the ocean as a national resource. Plenty of countries have taken these steps, so it is not this, but Morocco’s giant thermosolar farm among other large-scale, ambitious projects that sets it apart. The plant, expected to be completed by 2020, will generate electricity for one million homes. It is also the start of what Morocco hopes will be its newest export to Europe and beyond – energy.
No surprise on any list of climate leaders is China. After the ground-breaking US-China agreement that paved the way for the Paris Agreement in 2015, the United States has stepped away, leaving China as the superpower at the forefront of climate action. China, as the largest country by people and global emissions, is key to hopes of reducing global carbon emissions. It has been a leader diplomatically, but has seen challenges in implementation, with ministries not always able to coordinate efficiently. An innovative approach that China has been able to take given its size is piloting climate policies in different provinces, as it has done with carbon markets.
Notable absentees from climate leadership indices and practices include Germany, whose global support of climate action contradict its own in-country efforts. Other laggards, which need to step up their activities in order to reach global goals include the United States, Brazil, and India. But, as UN General Secretary said, “The world is counting on all of us to rise to the challenge before it’s too late.”
Image courtesy of Flickr. Originally published by S&S on January 24, 2019.