Diplomats from at least 167 countries are gathering in New York to sign the climate accord reached in December in Paris. Whether they make good on their pledges to slow dangerous greenhouse gas emissions will depend in large part on the actions in the years ahead by the world’s largest polluters. A status report on the key players follows.
China, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, has pledged to have its emissions of carbon dioxide reach a plateau or decline “around 2030,” and many experts believe it is on track to meet that target. And by that year, 20 percent of energy in China would come from nonfossil fuel sources, the government said.
China also committed recently to “strictly controlling public investment flowing into projects with high pollution and carbon emissions both domestically and internationally.”
Climate experts see this as a significant promise, since state-owned enterprises are by far the biggest consumers of coal, and because state-owned enterprises, backed by state loans, are building dozens of coal-fired power plants abroad. But those companies are deeply embedded in the Communist Party system, and officials trying to control them often encounter obstacles.
China has also pledged to set up a national market for greenhouse gas quotas by 2017, commonly called a “cap and trade” system, though experts have expressed skepticism about whether China will be able to meet that deadline, or whether the market would be effective.
There are no vocal climate change denialists among top Chinese officials, and President Xi Jinping has been consistent in saying China must help global efforts to limit climate change.
— EDWARD WONG
The United States pledged that it will cut greenhouse gas pollution between 26 to 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025. But its ability to meet that goal was thrown into question in February, when the Supreme Court unexpectedly put a hold on implementing a major environmental regulation aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants.Now it remains in limbo until all legal challenges have been resolved, which is likely to take at least another year.
The presidential election creates another question mark for the United States’ Paris commitment.
The leading Republican candidates, Donald J. Trump and Senator Ted Cruz, both question the established science of human-caused climate change and have forcefully criticized the Paris accord. Both Democratic candidates, Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders, have vowed to support and strengthen Mr. Obama’s climate change policies, which include greater use of renewable energy sources like wind and solar.
In general, the Democratic candidates more closely reflect the views of Americans on the issue, according to several polls. A Gallup poll from Marchfound that 64 percent of Americans worry a great deal or a fair amount about global warming.
— CORAL DAVENPORT
The European Union’s pledge to cut emissions by at least 40 percent by 2030 appears ambitious compared with other parts of the world. The 28-nation bloc also gives the largest amount of money to poorer countries to prepare for and deal with climate change.
But the region’s goals use 1990 as the baseline, giving it a running start (the bloc is on track to easily beat a target of cutting emissions by 20 percent by the end of this decade).
Much has changed since Europe set out a decade ago to lead the world on addressing climate change. Europe’s leadership is currently divided over a migration crisis and distracted by a British threat to leave the Union. There is also the prospect the Eurozone still could break up because of the situation in Greece.
Member states still must reach consensus in important areas on climate policies. They include how to reform and strengthen their emissions trading system for industry and utilities. That decision could be held up by countries like Poland that rely on coal for their power, and by lobbying from the steel sector and other energy-intensive industries.
— JAMES KANTER
Perhaps the most significant pledge by India has been to increase solar power generation to 100 gigawatts by 2022, up from about three gigawatts generated in India last year. “That’s an earthshaking commitment,” said Jairam Ramesh, former environment minister and a member of the opposition Congress party.
The country also announced recently that it would double its tax on coal. Since the current government took power in 2014, the tax on coal has gone up eightfold.
And since the Paris agreement, the government has toughened emissions standards for existing and new coal-based power plants. Together, these two new policies could make solar energy as competitive as coal.
“These are big and bold moves,” said Sunita Narain, director general of the Center for Science and Environment, a New Delhi research and advocacy group. “They are game changers.”
India also committed during the Paris talks to increasing forest cover. Prakash Javadekar, the minister of environment, forest and climate change, has said publicly in recent weeks that the government planned to commit 400 billion Indian rupees, or about $6 billion, toward reforestation programs.
— GEETA ANAND
Russia has yet to make any binding pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
A preliminary plan, announced by Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, during the Paris conference, implies lowering emissions to 70 percent from a baseline set in 1990. But the country likely will hit this target simply by maintaining current levels of emissions, so this plan “is very close to business as usual,” said Alexey Kokorin, head of the Climate and Energy program at WWF Russia.
Some Russians oppose signing the climate treaty. People in coal-producing regions, for example, fear that it will lead to job losses. Nevertheless, the overall mood among policymakers is positive about the Paris climate agreement, partly because they understand that there is pressure inside and outside the country to address climate change.
Preliminary work on national emission targets in Russia is under way. No legislation on this issue has been introduced yet.
The biggest challenge Russia faces is modernizing its economy. Progress on that front could lead to lower emissions as industries adopt newer technologies.
– OLEG MATSNEV
In Brazil, President Dilma Rousseff committed to an ambitious plan to reduce her country’s emissions 43 percent from 2005 levels by 2030 — making Brazil the only major developing economy to commit to absolute emissions reductions, rather than simply a slowing of the rate of emissions.
The climate plan has been a signature of Ms. Rousseff’s administration, but she now faces possible impeachment, which could throw the Brazilian plan into question. The Brazilian House has already voted to impeach her; the Senate votes next month. However, Ms. Rousseff is still scheduled to sign the Paris accord in New York on Friday, and to speak at the event.
At the heart of Ms. Rousseff’s climate plan are sweeping efforts to slow deforestation for agriculture, the chief contributor to Brazil’s substantial carbon footprint. But with the country in the worst economic downturn in 25 years, those proposals are likely to face severe political headwinds whether or not she survives the impeachment proceedings. The economic downturn also means the government is likely to lack the funds to invest in new renewable energy sources.
— CORAL DAVENPORT
Indonesia, one of the world’s largest greenhouse gas polluters due to mass deforestation, pledged under the Paris Agreement to cut its emissions 29 percent from a business-as-usual scenario by 2030, or by 41 percent if it receives substantial assistance from the developed world. But even with those pledged reductions, Indonesia’s emissions would still soar, nearly doubling from 2010 levels.
In its initial Paris pledge, Indonesia laid out a plan to make those cuts by producing 23 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025. It also pledged to extend through 2017 a short-term moratorium on issuing new deforestation licenses to palm oil producers.
However, Indonesia’s Minister of Environment, Siti Nurbaya Bakar, said in March that the country’s next round of commitments to cut emissions would be stronger, and that it would be submitted ahead of the scheduled 2020 deadline.
“This is more of a political statement that Indonesia is not going backslide from its initial commitment,” said Arief Wijaya, an analyst in the Jakarta office of the World Resources Institute, a Washington-based research organization.