The Countries That Could Spoil Global Climate Negotiations
More than 190 countries signed on the dotted line of the Paris Agreement in 2015, forming a new global consensus on the imperative to halt rising temperatures. The collective results since then haven’t been enough. Overall planet-warming emissions have gone up, turning COP26 into the prime venue for asking countries to do more. But some attendees stand out for their reluctance to do almost anything at all. This is a guide to the holdouts who arrive in Glasgow, Scotland, without significant plans to curb their enormous emissions.
A common link between several holdouts is their abundance of fossil resources, and that’s certainly the case for Russia. There’s a lot of coal, oil and gas the country intends to sell. President Vladimir Putin is so confident even the dirtiest fossil fuel still has a future that he’s spending more than $10 billion on a railroad to ramp up coal exports to Asia. He announced a net-zero goal of 2060 ahead of COP26 without providing details of how that could change Russia’s short-term targets. Officials have instead talked up Russia’s vast forests, but climate experts don’t agree that the trees can stand against all the pollution.
As one of the world’s largest oil producers, Saudi Arabia is almost completely reliant on profits from fossil fuels. It’s also a huge consumer of dirty energy, with one of the highest per-capita carbon footprints in the world. Attempts to diversify the economy in order to clean up its pollution haven’t borne results. Although the country is bathed in some of the world’s best solar and wind resources, it’s been slow to take advantage of clean energy.
Brazil is home to both the Amazon rainforest, one of the world’s largest carbon sinks, and to a leader who has few qualms about denying the reality of climate change. President Jair Bolsonaro has opened vast tracts of the forest to beef and soy production and wants other governments to pay the country to stop destroying biodiverse habitats. Without that funding—a crucial subject for negotiators at COP26—he won’t pursue any commitments to reaching net zero emissions.
Australia falls in the rare category of democratic countries sitting on huge fossil fuel reserves. It’s also among the few rich countries that’s very vulnerable to climate change. Like the U.S., the influence of the coal and gas lobby has made its politics toxic and hamstrung the country from taking any decisive action. Unlike the U.S., however, the country has so far resisted international pressure to make a net-zero commitment.
Whenever questions about net zero are raised, the Indian government is quick to remind the world that its per capita emissions are much lower than average. The problem of climate change, it argues, has been created by wealthier countries such the U.S. and the U.K., which spewed billions of tons of CO₂ while industrializing over the last century. India hasn’t pledged to eliminate its emission, making it the only one of the 10 largest economies to refuse. But it can point to its sprawling build-out of renewables backed by a goal to quadruple capacity by 2030.
The world’s sixth-largest emitter has yet to ratify the Paris agreement. The country faces U.S. sanctions on its nuclear programs and other economic activities. It says if sanctions were removed, it would be open to raising its climate ambition. Like its Saudi neighbor, the country has huge solar and wind resources that could aid its eventual decarbonization.
The third-largest economy in Africa is in dire straits. State-owned utility Eskom is struggling to pay down its debt and keep the lights on. President Cyril Ramaphosa, a former head of the nation’s largest mining union, wants to commit to a net-zero by 2050 goal — but also plans to keep burning coal. South Africa has begun to seek help from rich countries to manage its debt in return for stronger climate commitments.
In August a state-owned oil rig burst into flames, and the footage went viral on social media, becoming a visceral symbol of Mexico’s role in a climate catastrophe. The rest of the country isn’t in much better condition: A summer drought covered almost 80% of the country, and the central bank warned of rising farm prices and, more broadly, inflation. The government’s plan to nationalize the power sector could undercut renewables production. Without stronger climate commitments, critics doubt Mexico’s commitment to reducing emissions, especially as it ramps up oil output.
Wildfires ravaged Turkey’s idyllic coastline this summer. But even as its skies turned red, its politicians were largely silent on climate change. The nation in October became the last Group of 20 country to ratify the Paris Agreement, though it wouldn’t commit to aggressive emission cuts. The target for reaching net zero is 2053. Turkey’s neglect of its vast and untapped potential in solar power has puzzled experts. Instead, coal production has risen to reduce dependence on imported natural gas.
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