The German environmental NGO Germanwatch has launched a new international climate protection index, saying it offers a better basis for comparing countries' efforts to combat global warming.
The new index provides a broader basis for comparison
According to Germanwatch, the new Climate Change Performance Index will be an effective weapon in the struggle to reverse the dangerous effects of climate change, because, for the first time, it compares the effects of climate policy in the 53 countries that account for 90 percent of harmful emissions worldwide.
"We think that, over time, we really can create an enormous amount of pressure with this index," said Christoph Bals, executive director of Germanwatch. "It will be an incentive for those countries which are the frontrunners, and it will be a strong way of creating pressure on those countries which are at the back of this index to do better in the future."
The index is the result of calculating three different values: The current trend in a country's greenhouse gas emissions, in which the emissions of the transport, construction, industry, and energy sectors are measured; the base indicator measuring the amount of carbon dioxide released in the atmosphere per person and per energy unit used; and the country's climate change policies -- the laws and financial incentives implemented to reduce emissions levels and improve energy efficiency. The expected results of these policies are also included in the calculation. The outcome is a more informed, multi-faceted assessment of each country's emissions-reducing performance and potential.
In Germany, Freiburg is known for its commitment to renewable energy forms such as hydopower
The index's initial findings surprised even some top experts in the field, such as Hartmut Grassl, former director of both the World Climate Research Program and the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg.
"When you integrate the trends and the policy-making aspect, then the result is a rearrangement of the typical ranking we saw up until now," said Grassl. "Previously, we always saw who had most emissions per capita, or as an entire country. Now you have an index which includes the recent trends plus the climate policy in the international arena."
The index puts Germany in fifth place overall out of the 53 nations included in the comparison. The United States was number 52, ahead of only Saudi Arabia, while the top three nations were Iceland, Latvia, and Great Britain. The latter has traditionally not been seen as a leader in climate protection, as its emissions levels, rather than falling, are at a standstill. On the other hand, China proved to be better than previously thought, due to its strong focus on utilizing renewable energy technologies.
Despite being a forerunner in the development and application of renewable energy technologies, the index showed that Germany is not among the top nations when it comes to all aspects of climate protection. It may have been the only industrialized nation to have achieved a slight decrease in transport emissions (fourth place), but in the building sector, Germany's heating requirements resulted in a lowly 31st place. And in terms of energy trends, the current German government is considering both building new coal-burning energy plants, and prolonging the lifespan of its nuclear power plants. These issues, along with developments in renewable energies, will be on the table at a national energy summit in April, where Germanwatch plans to present their new index.
"Germany has a good chance of improving its ranking," said Jan Burck of Germanwatch. "We have the technology and we have the policies. But I think a big part of our country is looking at economic development, and that's why I'm afraid of Germany's development when it comes to emissions. If you have so-called bigger problems, then climate change is often ignored, which means emissions could increase."
Drastic action needed
Global warming and extreme weather conditions will most affect developing nations
Some of the index's findings make clear the need for drastic action. For example, if the industrial world and the developing world fail to cut emissions by 80 and 50 percent respectively before 2050, scientists predict the average global temperature will rise by two degrees centigrade -- something that is expected to cause unprecedented climatic changes.
As developing countries are most likely to be affected by this, Grassl is hopeful that they will be the ones to step up political pressure on industrialized nations. He says that economic incentives such as emissions-trading and the production of renewable energy for export markets can make climate protection financially attractive to third-world nations, and play a significant role in getting those nations on board in the fight to reduce emissions worldwide.