Climate Action Tracker (CAT) is an initiative of the three research organisations mentioned above, that aims to enable understanding of how ambitious countries are being in their contributions towards a sub-2°C global warming outcome. We spoke to Hanna Fekete, a founding partner at NewClimate Institute.
“The idea of involving all countries in ambitious climate action arose at the Bali COP in 2007,” Hanna Fekete says, “and then flowed through into the Copenhagen pledges in 2009. That’s when the first iteration of what is now Climate Action Tracker appeared, responding to a perceived need for a neutral, independent tool to make pledges comparable in spite of great differences between countries, and later to monitor progress against those pledges.” Fekete herself has been working on the Tracker since 2011.
Climate Action Tracker aggregates data from country (I)NDCs and other pledges and policies, to create a global picture on warming, and calculates the projected ‘emissions gaps’ in 2020, 2025 and 2030 – that is, the gap between the emissions levels needed to limit warming below 2°C by 2100 and the levels that are projected to result from current and promised country actions.
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Against the backdrop of this global picture, CAT also analyses in detail 32 countries (representing over 80% of current global GHG emissions) that are either the largest emitters or are of interest because of their policies (for example Costa Rica and Bhutan).
As of now, the picture looks all too rosy, given that the Climate Action Tracker thermometer, as is traditional, gets redder as things get hotter. On the basis of current country actions, we are heading towards 3.6°C of warming by 2100. On the basis of current Paris pledges we are heading for 2.8°C, close to double the ambition the agreement actually called for, of 1.5°C.
That we’re far off track isn’t surprising when one looks at the performance of major emitters. Climate Action Tracker ranks these on a scale from ‘Inadequate’ to ‘Role Model’. There are none at all of the latter, and those that rank as ‘Sufficient’ to keep us below 2°C are generally smaller economies (for example Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Morocco). Some major economies (and emitters) such as the EU, China and India are in the ‘Medium’ bracket (meaning we would still miss 2°C), but all too many (nearly half the 32 countries tracked) are ranked ‘Inadequate’, including not just economic giants such as the US and Japan, but also some surprising residents on this particular ‘naughty step’, such as New Zealand, Chile and Singapore, which generally get a good press for their climate stance. In many cases, the ‘Inadequate’ ranking comes about because CAT doesn’t find the relevant country’s pledges ‘fair’ in terms of the ambition it could reasonably be expected to have.
“Where we find ourselves at the moment is not good enough,” Fekete says. “We are only achieving 2.8 degrees, and even that is based on all countries achieving their pledges.”
(On this point, it’s important to note that many developing country NDC pledges are conditional on getting financial assistance. UNEP estimates these conditional pledges to represent about the 15% of the gap to a 2°C pathway by 2030.)
“So we need to be able to identify,” Fekete goes on, “who can be more ambitious and how they can be helped to take that more ambitious path. There are many good signs – for example, more and more countries are moving to absolute targets rather than reductions below ‘Business as Usual’. But a lot of countries are still at the stage of working to bed down existing NDCs in policy, to create reporting frameworks and so on, so there are also capacity issues.”
The Tracker has no formal status within the UNFCCC process, but Fekete says that this gives it a valued independence, and that the tool is widely used by delegates in developing negotiating positions. “Right now, we are focussed on preparations for the facilitative dialogue due in 2018, and then the global stocktake of NDCs that will happen after that,” Fekete says.
CAT being essentially based on studying policy, and as a by-product of other work the NewClimate Institute does, the NCI team has amassed a huge library of documentation, which is housed in a separate database and also freely available. The database contains over 3,500 policy documents from 190 countries and includes a selection of ‘good practice’ policy from the world’s 30 largest emitters that provides a kind of handy guide to key policy sectors. How policy coverage in these sectors varies is itself interesting. For example, 87% of the study countries have a target for renewables within electricity generation, but only 3% have a policy on sustainability standards for biomass use – a worrying statistic given how prominently biomass features in many countries’ plans. “The database is Wiki-based,” Fekete notes, “so other people can contribute by invitation.”
As we have heard from many sources on many issues, the Climate Action Tracker team has to work hard to produce its results because of lack of harmonisation of data in the NDCs. “To take just one example,” Fekete says, “countries use different iterations of IPCC data on which to base their targets.” The NDC stocktake process starting in 2018 is surely a good opportunity to start to fix these standardisation issues, and regular readers will have heard our call before for a standard categorisation of mitigation and adaptation projects in future NDC revisions, which would allow for much easier assessment of opportunities by financiers.
The Tracker does not address investment issues, but the NewClimate Institute did the work behind the recently published second edition of the Allianz Climate and Energy Monitor, which ranks G20 member states on their current attractiveness as potential destinations for investments in low-carbon electricity infrastructure. It also estimates their current and future investment needs in line with a trajectory compatible with the 2°C/1.5°C temperature limits of the Paris Agreement.
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, major developing economies such as India, South Africa, Brazil and Indonesia rank highest in terms of needs, whilst more mature economies rank highest in terms of attractiveness. Total G20 needs are at some €700 billion per annum between now and 2035, roughly double the current rate of investment.
Hanna Fekete is founding partner of NewClimate Institute. She works on the evaluation and quantification of energy and climate policy impacts, as well as the actions of non-state and subnational actors. She is part of the core team of the Climate Action Tracker, evaluating climate change mitigation commitments and policies. She contributed to the UNEP Emissions Gap Report 2014 and 2015. Further, Hanna Fekete supports the work on the design of carbon market components and Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, with a regional focus on Latin America. Prior to founding NewClimate Institute, Hanna Fekete worked for Ecofys, a leading consultancy in the area of energy and climate policies, where she managed multiple projects related to international climate policies, serving NGOs, foundations, national governments and international organisations. Hanna Fekete has a background in industrial engineering. She has lived, studied and worked in various countries including Germany, the US, Chile and Peru.