24 countries are setting a (more or less) good example
When it comes to climate change, there is a need for trade. There is broad international agreement on this, and not just for a short time. The only thing that is lacking is actual measures. However, 24 countries have managed to stop or even reduce their greenhouse gas emissions since at least 2008, shows a comparative study. These 24 countries can therefore be seen as a kind of role model. However, there is one big but.
Researchers are looking for climate pioneers
The World Climate Conference recently ended in Glasgow, Scotland. At this point, the states agreed on a further reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. The 197 contractual partners want to enable the goal of limiting global warming to a maximum of 1.5 degrees compared to the pre-industrial era. If this goal is still to be implemented, however, there will only be a very limited emissions budget available globally. Regardless of this, the global trend in terms of CO2 emissions continues to point upwards – even if the decline caused by the corona pandemic is included.
In a comparative study, researchers from the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC) in Berlin examined which countries have been reducing CO2 emissions in the long term. They used the EDGAR database, in which the EU Commission has broken down the global greenhouse gas emissions of the individual nations since 1970. In the study, the team wanted to identify countries that could be viewed as climate pioneers, so to speak. The decisive criterion was that the national peak in CO2 emissions had already been reached in 2008.
24 countries identified
Of the 197 climate convention partners, the researchers found out, only 24 countries can claim to have achieved a reduction in CO2 emissions at an early stage. The Ukraine (77 percent compared to the year with the most emissions), Denmark (56 percent) and Great Britain (46 percent) can show the most significant decreases. But Germany is also represented in the list. In this country, a reduction of 37 percent was achieved compared to our national peak in 1979.
Of the 24 countries that the study attributes to a pioneering position, 22 are in Europe. The two non-European countries are the USA and Jamaica. In view of these data, William Lamb, lead author of the study, stated that a global trend reversal in climate protection is still pending.
Leading countries divided into three groups
The researchers further refined their results by dividing the 24 countries into three groups. In doing so, they defined six “early starters” whose emissions peak was already in the 1970s. These countries also include Germany, Great Britain and North Macedonia. The team located the cause of the turnaround in structural reasons such as the oil crisis of the 1970s, which forced a switch from oil to gas as an energy source. The structural reasons also led to a rather small annual decrease in CO2 emissions.
The second group was late in reducing emissions, but recorded a drastic reduction in CO2 emissions. The scientists were able to identify six countries in the Eastern Bloc that reached their emissions peak around 1990. The reason for this was the decline of the Soviet Union, which was associated with a significant drop in economic output in the respective countries. The Ukraine stands out in particular, which peaked in 1988 and produced 646 megatons less CO2 in 2018.
The third group includes the “late starters” – twelve countries that achieved their maximum CO2 emissions in 2004 on average. These include the USA, Italy and Spain. The USA succeeded in reducing annual CO2 emissions by around 700 megatons.
More has to be done
„The 24 countries that could be described as pioneers have reduced their annual CO2 emissions by a total of 3.2 billion tons since their respective peak“, So Lamb. However, that will not be enough either. If global warming is to be limited to a maximum of two degrees, the pioneering countries still have to act – not to mention the countries that are not on the list. The 24 countries on the list would have to reduce their emissions by a further four percent per year. Even the “most successful” of these countries have not always managed this in the past.
From the researchers’ point of view, the main problem is the limitation of the measures to a few areas. Emissions reductions have generally only been achieved in the area of energy systems, which is the largest source of emissions in most countries. However, rising or stable values in other sectors such as agriculture or transport counteract this effect.
Nevertheless, the scientists see cause for optimism in their work. Because the 24 countries on the list show that even the more moderate climate protection measures in the past can achieve success. The researchers hope that the increasing pressure will lead to further reductions in CO2 emissions in the future. However, it is important that more of the 197 climate convention partners begin as soon as possible to sustainably reduce their emissions.