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Who fights hardest for the climate?

Irene Banos Ruiz
November 15, 2017

Many countries like to portray themselves as greener than they actually are. Others turn out to be unexpected climate champions. The Climate Change Performance Index reveals the truth about emissions and energy policies.

Children holding a "Save the world" banner
Image: Reuters/W. Rattay

Many countries are presenting their successes on combating climate change at the COP23 climate conference  but does it make them greener?

The Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI) released on Wednesday ranks 56 countries and the European Union according to their greenhouse gas emissions, renewable energy development, energy use and climate policy. The report is published by German environment non-profit Germanwatch and the Climate Action Network.

Sweden, Lithuania and Morocco got the best marks, while South Korea, Iran and Saudi Arabia did worst. Just like last year, Germany was ranked relatively low, in position 22, mainly due to its heavy use of coal. The EU came in a place higher, at 21.

Infografik Karte Climate Change Performance Index 2017 ENG

The good news is that average CO2 emissions growth rates have fallen compared to last year's CCPI. The bad news: like last year, no country did well enough on energy policy to deserve a "very good" ranking. 

Despite Sweden leading the list thanks to a drop in its emissions and a high share of renewables in its energy mix, it still lacks ambition, according to the report's authors. The Scandinavian country's targets on renewable energy for 2030 are not sufficient to keep global warming below 2 degrees.

Morocco, on the other hand, is a country on the upswing. The African nation has strongly promoted a transition towards renewable energy, which it is now implementing. It's expected to rank even higher in the coming years.  

British success story

The first legislation in the world to write emissions reductions into law was signed in the United Kingdom in 2008.

This helped the country move forward, since at least in this respect, energy policy is not dependent on the whims of whoever resides in Downing Street, Nick Bridge, special representative for climate change with the UK government told DW.

Infografic: Germany's fall from climate leadership

"We have reduced our carbon emissions by 40 percent since 1990, while the economy has grown nearly 70 percent," Bridge said. 

Carbon pricing, together with several regulations, has been one of the main drivers of success in the country.

"We went from 40 percent of coal in our power generation five years ago, to nearly nothing," Bridge said. In fact, the UK managed to have a zero-emissions day earlier this year.

But achieving 8th place in the climate index has also been possible due to offshore wind — the UK is the biggest offshore wind producer in the world — and a shift toward a circular economy.

"Yet, the country's 2030 targets for emissions and renewable energy are not ambi­tious enough for a well-below-2°C pathway," the report reads.

Germany must ditch coal

Germany is showing off its inventory of clean technologies as the co-host country for the COP23 climate conference.

Infografic: Germany's climate goals

But the country remains one of the world's top ten emitters of greenhouse gas emissions and might therefore miss its climate targets.

Germany has pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2020 — but the measures adopted so far will only allow a reduction of about 30 percent by then. A huge lignite industry and the transport sector are Germany's biggest burden.

"Coal has no future. The world is moving away from it; Germany has to follow suit," Eberhard Brandes from WWF Germany told DW. "Otherwise we will neither be a role model nor adhere to our international commitments."

Renewables still a dream

The CCPI authors put Russia toward the bottom of their climate rankings because of the country's high emissions rate and low use of renewables — the country has the largest natural gas reserves and some of the largest coal and oil reserves in the world.

Russian ministry for Energy (left) with other climate experts
Kulapin (left, at COP23) insists Russia is a green countryImage: DW/Irene Banos Ruiz

Alexey Kulapin, director of Russia's energy policy department, however, claimed in a press conference at COP23 that the Russian energy system is one of the greenest in the world.

"Natural gas accounts for more than half of the energy sources in Russia — and everyone knows that gas is one of the most ecological energy sources," he said.

Experts insist Russia lacks ambition on domestic climate policy and has a long way to go to improve its ranking.

South Korea ranks third from the bottom. The country's level of renewables in the energy supply is still extremely low.

"We have to increase our renewable energies, but very wisely," Yoo Young-sook, head of the non-profit environmental organization The Climate Change Center and former environment minister, told DW.

She fears a drastic shift away from nuclear power might only increase emissions from fossil fuels.

Renewables, Yoo says, are still a thing of the future in her country.