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India is ahead of many major economies on climate action, but globally national governments are not showing the political will to phase out use of fossil fuels quickly enough to restrain runaway global warming

Greenhouse gas emissions are still rising because use of fossil fuels shows no signs of declining (Photo by John R. Perry)

Greenhouse gas emissions are still rising because use of fossil fuels shows no signs of declining (Photo by John R. Perry)

India has been counted among the few countries that have started to implement strategies to limit global warming, according to the Climate Change Performance Index released at the annual summit being held in the coal mining town of Katowice in Poland.

Although there was a continued growth and competitiveness of renewable energy, the results showed a lack of political will of most governments in the world to phase out fossil fuels with the necessary speed, according to the index prepared by Germanwatch and NewClimate Institute that was published together with Climate Action Network.

The performance index is a league table of 56 countries and the European Union, which are together responsible for about 90% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The top three slots of the index were left blank as the authors felt none of the countries surveyed were clearly on a “well below 2 degrees Celsius pathway” in their overall performance.

The countries’ ambition to restrain climate change as well as the level of implementation was not high enough, the authors of the index said. “No country is doing enough,” said co-author Jan Burck of Germanwatch said.

India’s performance

India was ranked 11th in this year’s index, improving its standing by three places compared with the 2018 performance index. One of the main reasons for India’s high ranking was because it had the lowest emission per person among the major economies, Burke said. “I’m happy to see India in the green box,” said Stephan Singer of Climate Action Network.

The index ranked countries based on four categories — greenhouse gas emissions (40% weightage), renewable energy (20%), energy use (20%), and climate policy (20%). The fourth category was based on expert assessments by civil society organisations and think tanks from the respective countries. The index also evaluated the extent to which respective countries were taking adequate action so that they are on track to meeting the aim of the historic 2015 Paris Agreement.

“Before Paris, the world was heading to 4-5 degrees Celsius of global warming. Now, we are still on a path to more than 3 degrees, still a catastrophic perspective. The costs of electricity from wind and solar have dropped by roughly a third since then, so all countries can increase ambition and pace,” said Niklas Höhne from NewClimate Institute, and co-author of the report. “Renewables are bringing coal under pressure.”

India improved its performance in the renewable energy category, joining the group of medium performers. However, the index pointed out that national experts argued that the country’s plans to build new coal-fired power plants might pose a risk of offsetting positive developments in the renewables sector. “It is doing a lot in renewable energy,” Burke said. Comparatively low levels of per capita emissions and a relatively ambitious mitigation target by 2030 gave India an overall high rating in the emissions category.

Ranking 33rd in this year’s index, China moved up to the bottom of the medium-performing countries group for the first time. It as a result of China’s emissions trend, as its levels did not increase between 2014 and 2016. However, latest data show that greenhouse gas emissions started to increase again in 2017 and 2018, the authors of the index said. China may fall back again in next year’s edition of the index, they warned.

Rising emissions

After three consecutive years of stable CO2 emissions, emissions are rising again. After a brief lull in growth, fossil carbon dioxide emissions that cause global warming are likely to rise by as much as 2.7% in 2018 after expanding by 1.6% last year, the Global Carbon Project had said earlier during the UN climate summit. The projected rise is driven by “solid growth” in coal use for the second year in a row, and “sustained growth” in oil and gas use. See: Coal and cars drive up emissions growth

“Emissions need to peak and rapidly decrease to address climate change,” said Corinne Le Quéré, lead researcher of the Global Carbon Budget 2018. “With this year’s growth in emissions, it looks like the peak is not yet in sight.”

In 40 of the 56 analysed countries, greenhouse gas emissions decreased between 2011 and 2016. However, there were still investments in fossil fuel infrastructure that lead to a high risk of a lock-in into high emissions pathways, the authors of the index said. “Emissions are still rising rapidly,” said Singer. “Disappointingly, fossil fuel companies are still running the show.”

The world needs to make peak polluters accountable, Singer said. After the US backtracked from the Paris Agreement, there is insufficient global action to tackle climate change, he said, adding that this also means that there’s more importance of domestic action undertaken by national governments. “Governments are cheating people and nature,” Singer said.

The US and Saudi Arabia, which have been blocking many important moves by negotiators at the Katowice climate summit, brought up the bottom of the table in the index. The US fell by three positions to 59th place, ranking low or very low for the Emissions, renewable energy and energy use categories. This continued the downward trend after US President Donald Trump said his country would withdraw from the Paris pact.

“The refusal of President Trump to acknowledge climate change being human-caused, and his dismantling of regulation designed to reduce carbon emissions, result in the United States also being rated very low for its national and international climate policy performance,” said the authors of the index.

Saudi Arabia remained at the bottom of the climate performance index. It continued to be a very low performer in all index categories and on every indicator for emissions, energy use and renewable energy. On climate policy, national experts gave Saudi Arabia a very low rating. Experts criticised the country’s very low performance in international negotiations.

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