Who fights hardest for the climate?

Many countries like to portray themselves as greener than they actually are. Others turn out to be unexpected climate champions. The Climate Change Performance Index reveals the truth about emissions and energy policies.

Many countries are presenting their successes on combating climate change at the COP23 climate conference  but does it make them greener?

Nature and Environment | 08.11.2017

The Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI) released on Wednesday ranks 56 countries and the European Union according to their greenhouse gas emissions, renewable energy development, energy use and climate policy. The report is published by German environment non-profit Germanwatch and the Climate Action Network.

Sweden, Lithuania and Morocco got the best marks, while South Korea, Iran and Saudi Arabia did worst. Just like last year, Germany was ranked relatively low, in position 22, mainly due to its heavy use of coal. The EU came in a place higher, at 21.

The good news is that average CO2 emissions growth rates have fallen compared to last year's CCPI. The bad news: like last year, no country did well enough on energy policy to deserve a "very good" ranking. 

Despite Sweden leading the list thanks to a drop in its emissions and a high share of renewables in its energy mix, it still lacks ambition, according to the report's authors. The Scandinavian country's targets on renewable energy for 2030 are not sufficient to keep global warming below 2 degrees.

Morocco, on the other hand, is a country on the upswing. The African nation has strongly promoted a transition towards renewable energy, which it is now implementing. It's expected to rank even higher in the coming years.  

British success story

The first legislation in the world to write emissions reductions into law was signed in the United Kingdom in 2008.

This helped the country move forward, since at least in this respect, energy policy is not dependent on the whims of whoever resides in Downing Street, Nick Bridge, special representative for climate change with the UK government told DW.

Infografik Deutschland verliert Vorreiterrolle beim Klimaschutz ENG

"We have reduced our carbon emissions by 40 percent since 1990, while the economy has grown nearly 70 percent," Bridge said. 

Carbon pricing, together with several regulations, has been one of the main drivers of success in the country.

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"We went from 40 percent of coal in our power generation five years ago, to nearly nothing," Bridge said. In fact, the UK managed to have a zero-emissions day earlier this year.

But achieving 8th place in the climate index has also been possible due to offshore wind — the UK is the biggest offshore wind producer in the world — and a shift toward a circular economy.

"Yet, the country's 2030 targets for emissions and renewable energy are not ambi­tious enough for a well-below-2°C pathway," the report reads.

Germany must ditch coal

Germany is showing off its inventory of clean technologies as the co-host country for the COP23 climate conference.

But the country remains one of the world's top ten emitters of greenhouse gas emissions and might therefore miss its climate targets.

Germany has pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2020 — but the measures adopted so far will only allow a reduction of about 30 percent by then. A huge lignite industry and the transport sector are Germany's biggest burden.

"Coal has no future. The world is moving away from it; Germany has to follow suit," Eberhard Brandes from WWF Germany told DW. "Otherwise we will neither be a role model nor adhere to our international commitments."

Renewables still a dream

The CCPI authors put Russia toward the bottom of their climate rankings because of the country's high emissions rate and low use of renewables — the country has the largest natural gas reserves and some of the largest coal and oil reserves in the world.

Kulapin (left, at COP23) insists Russia is a green country

Alexey Kulapin, director of Russia's energy policy department, however, claimed in a press conference at COP23 that the Russian energy system is one of the greenest in the world.

"Natural gas accounts for more than half of the energy sources in Russia — and everyone knows that gas is one of the most ecological energy sources," he said.

Experts insist Russia lacks ambition on domestic climate policy and has a long way to go to improve its ranking.

South Korea ranks third from the bottom. The country's level of renewables in the energy supply is still extremely low.

"We have to increase our renewable energies, but very wisely," Yoo Young-sook, head of the non-profit environmental organization The Climate Change Center and former environment minister, told DW.

She fears a drastic shift away from nuclear power might only increase emissions from fossil fuels.

Renewables, Yoo says, are still a thing of the future in her country.

Activists storm Europe's largest coal mine

Exit coal - now!

One day before COP23, thousands of anti-coal mining activists gathered to urge a complete phase out of coal for use in power stations. The protesters, dressed with in protective white suits, walked for about 10 kilometers — from a nearby village to the Hambach coal mine.

Activists storm Europe's largest coal mine

Block the destruction

Hambach is the largest CO2 emitter in Europe. Its expansion has already partially cleared out a 1,000-year-old forest and left several ghost villages behind — with more to come. Activists believe the climate talks going on in Bonn, only 50 kilometers away, are a complete nonsense while the mine keeps running.

Activists storm Europe's largest coal mine

Fighting in peace

Despite a heavy police presence, the mood for Sunday's protest was very peaceful. The protagonists waved colourful banners and wore painted faces. Some brought guitars and played music - at least during the first part of the day.

Activists storm Europe's largest coal mine

Attention: danger to life

As protesters approached the mine, police officers moved in and began blocking the march. With loud speakers, they warned the demostrators that they were trepassing on private property and they posed a risk to security.

Activists storm Europe's largest coal mine

Run, run, run

As the drew closer to the mine, the long line of demonstrators suddenly burst into life, with many people running and shouting, forgetting the many kilometers they had already walked.

Activists storm Europe's largest coal mine

A one-day success

Activists said that blocking this type of coal infrastructure was the best way to make their voices heard for an immediate transition away from coal. And yes, at least for a while, the giant digger stopped operating. The hundreds of activists who made it to the coal mine hailed the stoppage as a great success.

Activists storm Europe's largest coal mine

No more coal for climate

Anti-coal activists say no other place in Europe represents the dependence on coal for electricity as well as the Hambach mine. Among the many signs carried by protesters, one of the often repeated ones was: Exit coal, protect the climate.

Activists storm Europe's largest coal mine

Far from an end

Towards the end of Sunday's march, two more groups who had gotten separated from the main demonstration, joined up with their comrades. Here you can see the police have lined up to prevent their advance.

Activists storm Europe's largest coal mine

Time for action

The activists were successful in shutting down parts of the Hambach mine for just a day. But whether politicians will take any long-term measures regarding coal mining during the COP23 climate conference remains to be seen.