COP27: What have global leaders done on climate change in 2022?


Last November global leaders met at the UN climate summit COP26 in Glasgow to agree next steps to tackle climate change.

But climate experts have told the BBC that progress in 2022 has been slow – with governments around the world distracted by global energy and financial crises.

Last week the UN warned the world is heading towards catastrophe. But there are rays of hope – including fresh US legislation and a change of government in Brazil that could reverse the Amazon rainforest’s destruction.

As leaders depart for COP27 in Egypt next week, we look at seven key players to ask who is leading the way and who is dragging their feet.

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USA: A climate leader again?

The US made a huge leap forward this year when it passed sweeping new laws to confront climate change.

Measures within the Inflation Reduction Act could reduce US greenhouse gas emissions – those gases that warm the atmosphere – by 40% by 2030.

“This is the biggest investment in climate solutions in US history. It’s a huge sign of progress,” Dan Lashof, US director at the World Resources Institute, told BBC News.

The bill aims to make green energy the default in major sectors like electricity, transport and industry. The most obvious result for consumers is a tax credit of around $7,500 (£6,500) for those who buy an electric car.

And in response to the energy crisis, President Joe Biden released 15m barrels of oil from reserves on to the market and approved new leases for oil and gas drilling.

Image source, Getty Images

The US has also not delivered its fair share of finance to support developing countries suffering the most from climate change, which could damage relations at COP27.

UK: Leadership and ‘dithering’

The UK hosted COP26, secured major global pledges, and showed itself to be a clear international climate leader.

But the UK is going to COP27 “weaker” with “disappointing” leadership, says Alyssa Gilbert, Director of Policy at Imperial College London’s Grantham Institute.

On Wednesday Prime Minister Rishi Sunak performed a U-turn from his earlier decision not go to to Egypt due to other priorities – experts say this has compromised the UK.

“One of the key things about COP is political leadership from the top. Dithering from the Prime Minister is worse in a year when we are the presidents of COP,” explains Ms Gilbert.

Image source, Getty Images

And the UK has not increased its ambition to tackle its role in climate change, according to analysis by Climate Action Tracker of plans submitted to the UN. (These are called Nationally Determined Contributions – part of the landmark Paris Agreement in which countries promised to regularly increase ambition to tackle climate change).

The global energy crisis also led the UK to back-track on commitments to end new oil and gas extraction in the North Sea and close down coal-powered stations.

These changes may not fundamentally alter the UK’s energy balance – but they “send the wrong signal”, explains Robert Falkner, professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics.

EU: Squeezed by Russia

The European Union is historically progressive on tackling climate change, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the impact on energy supplies to Europe have undermined that.

“Leaders extended the lifeline of coal-fired power plants and and we estimate that European emissions actually increased by about 2% in the first six months of this year,” says Prof Robert Falkner.

Climate Action Tracker now rates EU’s climate targets, policies, and finance as “insufficient”, and the EU has not updated the UN with new NDC plans.

But Prof Falkner considers the return to investing in fossil fuels a “temporary setback” and suggests the EU could take this opportunity to make itself energy secure by investing in renewables.

A new plan, the REPowerEU plan, aims to increase the EU’s share of renewable energy in 2030 from 40% to 45%.

India: Big ambitions hampered by coal

India is one of the few countries to have published updated climate targets in 2022.

“It is almost impossible to talk about India without talking about progress,” says Kamya Choudhary at London School of Economics.

It promises to reduce emissions intensity by 45% by 2030 – meaning it plans to reduce emissions per dollar. It also wants 50% of installed energy to be renewable.

Professor Navroz Dubash at Centre for Public Policy and UN climate advisor told the BBC that tariffs on coal are helping to pay for key infrastructure, and the loss of that income needs to be plugged.

Image source, Gautum Dey/AFP
Image caption,

Workers prepare to load coal at the Jharia coalfield in Dhanbad in India’s Jharkhand State

However, as in other countries, Mr Choudary suggests this is a short-term measure to copy with the energy crisis.

Climate Action Tracker says India’s pledges are not very ambitious – they could be achieved with limited government action.

Brazil: New president, new hope?

Brazil holds one of the keys to fighting climate change – its massive Amazon rainforest, the lungs of the planet, soaks up huge amounts of carbon.

In a dramatic election last week, President Jair Bolsonaro was ousted by Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva – potentially changing overnight the future of the Amazon. “Brazil is ready to retake its leadership in the fight against the climate crisis,” Lula said on Sunday.

In 2021 alone deforestation increased by 48%. Renata Piazzon, executive director at Instituto Arapyau, puts this down to President Bolsonaro championing more mining in the Amazon.

Since Glasgow, Brazil’s targets have been criticised as “less ambitious” than pledges made in 2016, and for failing to meet promises.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,

A recently deforested plot of the Amazon rainforest in Manaus, Amazonas State

Historically, Brazil has used hydropower to provide large amounts of green energy – but a drought in 2021 drained its dams. In response, it invested in oil and gas – with predictions that its use of oil will increase by 70% by 2030.

However, the International Energy Agency predicts that solar will compensate for the loss of the nation’s hydropower.

Australia: Making up lost ground

Politics has seen a change of face in Australia too. Elected in May, new Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has accelerated climate plans, ending a decade of backsliding.

But Bill Hare, CEO of Climate Analytics, says it only seems like significant progress because of how far behind Australia was.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,

New Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has committed to reversing biodiversity loss in Australia by 2030

“There has been so far been little change in policy and certainly not in the area of fossil fuels,” he said.

And although Australia promised at COP26 to end deforestation, it was classed in 2021 as the only developed country that is a “hotspot” for tree loss – nearly half of forests in eastern Australia have been destroyed.

China: A ‘terrific’ polluter investing in renewables

China has a complicated role in global climate action. Unlike countries in the developed world, it is not responsible for historical greenhouse gas emissions that scientists say have caused climate change so far.

But it is now a “terrific polluter” because of its very rapid economic growth, explains Neil Hurst, senior policy fellow for energy and mitigation at the Grantham Institute. It burns half of the coal in the world, and is reluctant to cut back because of energy shortages.

However, China is also by far the biggest investors in renewable energy. A quarter of newly-registered cars in China are electric. “They’re making big efforts and setting demanding targets, including peaking its carbon emissions by 2030,” explains Mr Hurst.

And it has big ambitions to address carbon emissions with tree planting. In May, President Xi Jinping pledged to plant 70 billion trees by 2030.

Additional reporting by Data Journalism team.

Top image from Getty Images. Climate stripes visualisation courtesy of Prof Ed Hawkins and University of Reading.



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