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A worker uses a torch to cut steel pipes near a coal-powered power station at Zhangjiakou, with smokestacks in the background
Although China invests heavily in renewable energies, it still relies heavily on coalImage: Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images

Energy crisis puts global climate measures to the test

November 14, 2022

Halfway through the COP27 UN climate summit in Egypt, the latest Climate Change Performance Index shows where countries stand in terms of climate protection measures. Right at the top: Denmark, Sweden and Chile.

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While world leaders and negotiators are primarily concerned with the future at the UN climate change conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, the latest Climate Change Performance Index is taking stock of the current state of global climate protection measures.

The report, released on Monday, is published by environmental NGOs Germanwatch and the New Climate Institute, together with the global Climate Action Network. It assesses the climate protection measures of the European Unionand 60 other countries, which together are responsible for more than 90% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.

The global energy crisis sparked by the Russian war in Ukraine clearly shows how dependent the world still is on fossil fuels, said the report's authors. Among them is Niklas Höhne, founder of the New Climate Institute.

"The energy crisis shows that ambitious climate mitigation is the most reasonable way to move forward economically," he said. Renewable energies are more cost-effective than any newly built conventional power plant, and investments in energy efficiency have never paid off as they do today, he added.

Denmark tops list for climate protection

As in previous years, the first three places in the ranking remain empty — no single country is doing enough to meet the Paris climate protection targets agreed in 2015 to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), compared to pre-industrial times.

Leading the pack once again is Denmark. The small northern European country is ahead in almost all the individual categories and is the only country found to have a "high" national and "very high" international climate policy. For example, Denmark has pledged to provide money for loss and damage suffered in developing countries due to the effects of climate change. But it still has some catching up to do in terms of energy efficiency, according to the index, a shortfall that may threaten its 2025 climate goals.

Countries such as Chile, Morocco and India, ranked in sixth to eighth place, also posted good results in this year's report, closing in on leaders Denmark and Sweden.

US, Australia score points for new climate policies

This year, there is good news to report from the United States and Australia, said Thea Uhlich, a policy adviser at Germanwatch and one of the report's co-authors. "President Joe Biden's big investment package has moved the US up a few places. Climate policy goals have now been backed up with implementation measures — that's a good sign," she told DW.

However, the US still emits the most greenhouse gases in the world after China. In 2019, it was responsible for 11% of all emissions, while China came in at 27%. Both countries are among the lowest scoring countries on the index.

Australia's recent change in government has also improved its climate policies, said Uhlich — but added that she hoped "it would also lead to an expansion of renewables and a phaseout of coal."

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China's reliance on coal power ranks poorly

China has suffered the biggest demotion in the latest index, falling 13 places to 51. Although the country continues to invest heavily in renewable energies, it scores very poorly because of its rising carbon emissions.

"China has failed to curb rising emissions and reverse the trend," said Höhne, adding that the country is good at expanding renewable energies, but that it wasn't enough.

"Many new coal-fired power plants are currently being built in China. And that means that these power plants will have to run for several years or decades for these investments to pay off at all," said Uhlich. Achieving the country's climate protection targets is becoming an ever-more distant goal.

This could prove fatal: The faster the Earth warms, the faster we may reach potential tipping points like the rapid melting of the polar ice sheets. This could then trigger an uncontrollable, often irreversible natural momentum, resulting in enormous changes to the entire planet.

Two workers in blue jackets walk past facilities to receive and distribute natural gas in Lubmin
Faced with a drop in Russian gas, Germany has increased its imports from elsewhereImage: Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty Images

Germany demoted over LNG imports, renewed coal use

The fixation on the outsized expansion of liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports and the ramping up of coal-fired power plants under Chancellor Olaf Scholz's new administration prevented a better assessment of Germany's climate protection policies, explained Jan Burck of Germanwatch, who also contributed to the report. However, Germany's declining per capita emissions between 2017 and 2021 were rated positively.

Overall, Germany dropped three places compared with the last index, just barely scraping by in the "high" range. Weaker climate policies enacted in previous years are now taking their toll — Burck pointed out that the expansion of the wind energy sector, in particular, had slumped massively under the Merkel government. The failure to meet the country's climate targets is also evident in the transport and building sectors.

EU climate policies ranked from 'high' to 'very low'

The European Union as a whole has risen three places in the index, narrowly missing out on the "high" category with its 19th-place ranking. The main reason for the climb is the bloc's improved climate policy under the EU's Fit for 55 legislative package, which aims to reduce emissions in the EU by at least 55% by 2030.

Overall, however, it's a rather mixed bag for the individual member states. Nine countries have been rated "high" and seven "low," with Poland and Hungary even landing in the "very low" group. While Spain was able to move up 11 places to 23rd place, thanks to improvements in all the measurable categories, France dropped 11 slots to 28th place due to its weak climate policies and slow expansion of its renewable energy sector.

A dry riverbed in Spain showing cracked soil and a bridge over land, not water
Recent droughts in Spain have spurred the country to adopt ambitious climate targetsImage: Thomas Coex/AFP

"In the long term, the EU will only rise further in the [index] if it supports all member states to lower their emissions quickly — for example, by introducing a CO2 price for transport and heat together with a meaningful social climate fund," said Uhlich.

As is the case for China, she added, the EU and Germany cannot afford to back new fossil fuel infrastructure — neither at home nor, for example, in Senegal, where Germany is actively seeking to cooperate on new projects.

"The focus must be on renewable energies, otherwise we will only run into even greater crises in the future," she said.

This article was originally published in German

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