Feb 2, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Big emissions pledges are off to a rocky start

a man pushing a globe up a mountain
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Ambitious long-term emissions targets are now pretty commonplace for big emitting nations, but two things highlight the deep disconnect between the goals and getting on a path to achieve them.

Driving the news: A new BloombergNEF analysis looks at climate policies in G20 economies that would actually spur implementation of measures consistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement.

What they found: A mixed bag to say the least.

  • "Germany, France, South Korea, the U.K. and Japan are in the top quartile because they have implemented a higher number of robust, concrete measures to achieve ambitious-but-achievable targets."
  • But even those nations only have an average score of 67% in BloombergNEF's scorecard, and it gets worse from there. The average G20 score was 47%.

Zoom in: International Energy Agency head Fatih Birol has a wide-ranging interview on the latest episode of the "Cleaning Up" podcast hosted by energy analyst Michael Liebreich (who founded BloombergNEF but has moved on to other ventures). Birol notes...

  • "When I look around, I see a big, big, big gap between the pledges and the energy policies that are put in place and the incentives for those."
  • "When I look at ... these sustainable recovery packages around the world up to now, I cannot say that I am happy with the amount of incentives [for] renewables, electric cars and the others received from the governments," he adds, but expresses hope that 2021 will be a "game-changer."

The big picture: “The high-level pledges over the last year, in particular, have been impressive with major economies such as the European Union, Japan, South Korea and China all promising to get to ‘net-zero’ emissions or carbon neutrality at some future date,” Victoria Cuming, a senior BNEF analyst, said in a statement.

  • But Cuming notes that countries are generally not on track to meet their shorter-term pledges under the Paris deal.
  • “The reality is that countries simply haven’t done enough at home with follow-through policies to meet even the promises made more than five years ago.”

Where it stands: The report has some helpful data on all these net-zero pledges that are proliferating (in addition to showing why pledges and policy are nowhere near synonymous).

  • "A total of 58 countries and states have announced net-zero emission targets. Of these, most have been stated as official government pledges, but 18 have been formally passed into law."
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