Major exporters of fossil fuels and countries with a high rate of emissions per person are the lowest scorers in a new ranking of how different countries around the world are responding to climate change.
The annual Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI), published on Wednesday, tracks the climate performance of the 60 biggest polluting countries in the world, plus the European Union — which together are responsible for 92% of all global emissions.
It assesses how well each country is doing according to the Paris Agreement target to limit warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, and assigns a score across four categories: greenhouse emissions, energy use, renewable energy, and climate policy.
The European Union’s policy initiatives are considered separately to individual European countries, which also feature in the rankings.
It is vital that all countries take urgent action to prevent catastrophic climate change. A report published on Tuesday by Climate Action Tracker found that, despite the promises made at the COP26 Climate Conference this month, the world is still predicted to warm by 2.4 degrees above pre-industrial levels — warming that would have devastating consequences including more crop failure, extreme weather, and sea level rises.
While there have been improvements for some countries since last year’s CCPI, not a single country has yet done well enough to achieve the highest score possible — so the top three spaces on the ranking have been left blank.
“This says a great deal,” note the researchers who compiled the index, on the CCPI website. “Even if all countries were as committed as the current frontrunners, it would still not be enough to prevent dangerous climate change.”
“The countries with high rankings also have no reason to ease up,” they continue. “Even greater efforts and actions by governments are needed to set the world on track to keep global warming well below a 2 degrees increase. Even better, 1.5 degrees.”
The index is compiled by a group of climate think tanks, Germanwatch, the NewClimate Institute, and the Climate Action Network International, which is a coalition of climate campaign groups.
The 10 lowest scoring countries are: the US, Russia, Malaysia, Australia, Korea, Chinese Taipei, Canada, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Kazakhstan.
All have received their low scores for a variety of reasons. For example, the US scores “very low” in the emissions, energy use, and renewable energy categories, but scores “medium” for its climate policy because of President Joe Biden’s pledge to halve emissions levels by 2030.
Australia has performed particularly badly, the report notes — coming last in the “climate policy” category and 58 out of 64 overall (the ranking goes up to 64 because of the blank spaces for the top three).
It is singled out by the researchers as this year’s “climate loser” because it is behind other high-income countries and is trailing many lower-income countries too. The report says that 92% of the country’s energy was powered by fossil fuels as of 2020, and adds that the Australian government “is not taking substantial action to drastically alter this picture.”
On the policy front, the report says that Australia’s “Technology Investment Roadmap”, which is aimed at supporting technologies that help reduce emissions by 2040 is “insufficient” to support the decarbonization needed. While Australia did announce it aims to be net zero by 2050 in October, the index report notes that “no new policies and plans were announced” to back up that announcement.
Canada also ranks in the bottom 10 and has dropped three places compared to last year’s index. The index report says that “experts emphasize the oil and gas industry as a major block to more ambitious climate policy” in Canada and noted the country could be doing more to support renewables.
In terms of which countries did better, the top 10 overall scorers were: Denmark, Sweden, Norway, the UK, Morocco, Chile, India, Lithuania, Malta, and Germany.
Again all these countries were given their scores for a variety of reasons. The UK scored particularly well for the amount of its energy share that now comes from renewables, as well as its forward-looking policies.
India meanwhile was given a “medium” score for its use of renewables but scored high on its climate policy and its strong targets. It was also praised for being close to achieving its “Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) target of a 40% share for non-fossil fuel installed power capacity by 2030.”
Denmark was labelled the “climate winner” this year because of its shift over two decades from being dependent on coal to having over 30% of its energy powered by renewables.
Crucially, however, none of these countries are yet doing well enough to meet the Paris climate targets and limit climate change in the way that is needed.
Stephan Singer, the senior climate science and global energy policy advisor at the Climate Action Network, said that the countries that typically score low in the rankings are high fossil fuel exporters and high fossil fuel users.
"The same countries that are among those with the worst climate performance, are identical with the globally largest fossil fuel exporters and large fossil fuel users like the US, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Australia,” he said.
“They also belong to the group of those countries that have the highest per capita energy consumption and CO2 fossil fuel emissions as well as much lower renewable energy and energy efficiency achievements,” he added.