President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris accord prompted a resolute response from other world leaders: The deal would go ahead without the U.S.A. But the threat to climate success doesn’t just come from Trump’s White House ignoring climate change. It also comes from leaders left in the Paris accord, who are unwilling to acknowledge that they’re supporting a policy that is failing.
The Paris agreement was always oversold. Despite rhetoric about keeping temperature rises to 2 or even 1.5 degrees Celsius, the United Nations body that oversees the Treaty estimates that if every country were to achieve every promise by 2030, the total greenhouse gas cut would be equivalent to just 60 billion tons of carbon dioxide. Keeping the global temperature rise below 2 degrees C requires a reduction in emissions during this century of almost 6,000 billion tons. Even with complete success, Paris makes only 1% progress toward the least ambitious target.
And now even this meager outcome won’t be met. The treaty is unbinding, and national governments made vows that they are not living up to.
New research in the journal Nature finds that “no major advanced industrialized country is on track to meet its pledges.” The very leaders who criticized the U.S. for withdrawal are themselves failing to deliver. Not a single wealthy, major emitter is set to meet its treaty promises.
In June, Japan’s environment minister, Koichi Yamamoto, responded to the U.S. decision: “It’s as if they turned their back on the wisdom of humanity. In addition to being disappointed, I’m also angry.” Yet the research reveals that while Japan promised to cut emissions by 18% below 1990 levels by 2030, it is on target to cut just 4%.
This will not be the first time Japan fails to meet a grand climate pledge. Before the 2009 Copenhagen climate conference, it promised to cut 25% below 1990 levels by 2020 — even more and sooner than in Paris. That was applauded by climate campaigners and used as a showcase of what nations should do.
Four years later, because of its unwillingness to restart nuclear power plants, Japan admitted it would likely increase its emissions instead.
It is far from alone. In June, the leaders of Italy, Germany, and France responded to the U.S. withdrawal by declaring, “We deem the momentum generated in Paris in December 2015 irreversible.”
Yet, look closer and these “irreversible” targets appear as wobbly as Japan’s. The EU promised to cut 40% below its 1990 level for 2030, but has enacted policies that will reduce less than half that — 19%. Even including pledged policies, it will make it to less than 30%. What progress it makes is mostly coming from a shift from coal to gas, rather than the construction of renewable energy. Efforts to cut the half of emissions that fall outside its Emissions Trading Scheme are dogged by weak regulations, poor enforcement, and overlapping policies.
The story is the same around the globe: An Australian electricity market review has recommended weak emissions cuts that would make that nation’s Paris commitments difficult to deliver; emissions in Mexico and South Korea are not shifting much, and the latter’s government is considering mothballing its nuclear power plants, which would make it even harder to shift away from fossil fuels.
Moreover, it would be wrong to imagine the U.S. was on track before Trump quit Paris. President Obama promised in Paris to cut emissions 18% below 1990 levels by 2025, but never backed this with sufficient legislation. With the Clean Power Plan and pledged policies, the research finds, Obama would at most have achieved just a 7% reduction.