Centre for Climate and Energy Transformation (CET)
Article in Climate Policy

'Climate progressive' nations fall far short of Paris Agreement targets

Recently appointed Adjunct Professor Kevin Anderson’s newest study demonstrates just how far even 'climate progressive' nations are from meeting our international commitments to avoid dangerous climate change.

portrait of Kevin Anderson
Kevin Anderson is adjunct professor at CET and Professor of Energy and Climate at The University of Manchester and Uppsala University
Kevin Anderson

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The study, published in Climate Policy, focuses on the UK and Sweden as 'climate progressive nations' and concludes that despite claiming to have world-leading legislation, their planned reductions in emissions will still be two or three times greater than their fair share of a Paris-compliant global carbon budget. 

The same conclusion applies for Norway as Professor Kevin Anderson explains:

– Whilst this study focussed on emissions from energy use in the UK and Sweden, the approach used applies equally to other wealthy industrialised nations. If Norway is to meet its Paris-based temperature and equity commitments, it needs to begin immediate cuts in emissions of between 10 and 15% each year. This extends across all sectors, including aviation and shipping, with a fully zero-carbon energy system required by around 2035.

Anderson goes on to explain that as one of the richest countries in the world, Norway has had an increase of over 30% in carbon dioxide emissions since 1990[1]. This is in contradiction to the ‘climate progressive’ appearance Norway likes to front.

– But not only has Norway one of the worst records amongst industrialised nations for growing its carbon emissions, but it has and continues to profit hugely from its ongoing sales of oil and gas – the drug at the heart of our fossil fuel addiction”, says Professor Anderson.

Professor Anderson refers to the high profile Brundtland report on Sustainable Development, led by then Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Brundtland and adds:

– Perhaps the famous Brundtland quote would have been more appropriate had it read “meeting the greeds of today’s Norwegians whilst severely compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.”

The team of climate scientists asked how close the UK and Sweden are to meeting the UN’s climate commitments if the ‘safe’ quantity of emissions, the global carbon budget, is shared fairly between ‘developing’ and ‘developed’ countries.

– Academics have done an excellent job in understanding and communicating climate science, but the same cannot be said in relation to reducing emissions. Here we have collectively denied the necessary scale of mitigation, running scared of calling for fundamental changes to both our energy system and the lifestyles of high-energy users. Our paper brings this failure into sharp focus, says Professor Kevin Anderson.

The Paris Agreement establishes an international covenant to reduce emissions in line with holding the increase in temperature to ‘well below 2°C and to pursue 1.5°C.’ Global modelling studies have repeatedly concluded that such commitments can be delivered through respective national government adjustments to contemporary society, principally price mechanisms driving technical change. However, as emissions have continued to rise, these models have come to increasingly rely on the extensive deployment of negative emissions technologies (NETs).

John Broderick, an author from the UK’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, comments:

- This work makes clear just how important issues of fairness are when dividing the global carbon budget between wealthier and poorer nations. It also draws attention to how a belief in the delivery of untested technologies has undermined the depth of mitigation required today.”

Isak Stoddard, PhD candidate at CEMUS, Uppsala University who attended the Beyond Oil conference, hosted by CET, last October is an author on the study. He says:

- Our conservative analysis demonstrates just how far removed the rhetoric on climate change is from our Paris-compliant carbon budgets. For almost two decades we have deluded ourselves that ongoing small adjustments to business as usual will deliver a timely zero-carbon future for our children.”

Key insights from the paper, ‘A factor of two: how the mitigation plans of ‘climate progressive’ nations fall far short of Paris-compliant pathways’ by Kevin Anderson, John F. Broderick and Isak Stoddard:

  • Without a belief in the successful deployment of planetary scale negative emissions technologies, double-digit annual mitigation rates are required of developed countries, from 2020, if they are to align their policies with the Paris Agreement’s temperature commitments and principles of equity.
  • Paris-compliant carbon budgets for developed countries imply full decarbonization of energy by 2035-40, necessitating a scale of change in physical infrastructure reminiscent of the post-Second World War Marshall Plan. This brings issues of values, measures of prosperity and socio-economic inequality to the fore.
  • The stringency of Paris-compliant pathways severely limits the opportunity for inter-sectoral emissions trading. Consequently aviation, as with all sectors, will need to identify policies to reduce emissions to zero, directly or through the use of zero carbon fuels.
  • The UK and Swedish governments’ emissions pathways imply a carbon budget of at least a factor of two greater than their fair contribution to delivering on the Paris Agreement’s 1.5-2°C commitment.

For further discussions about this paper read the blog post on Climate Strategies and Climate Policy and The Ecologist. Professor Kevin Anderson is engaged in a two-year professorship at CET.


[1] A 32% rise using consumption-based emissions, see: http://globalcarbonatlas.org/en/CO2-emissions