When Donald Trump absconded from the Paris Climate Accord about one year ago, it set the media ablaze. Attacks from the left and praise from the right, the story eventually fizzled out sight due to other spectacles of “Breaking News.” The United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreements marks a long history of poor long term investment, crumbling infrastructure, recurrent boom & bust bust business cycles, and underfunded educational systems. Policy has done its best to patch-up the systemic issues mentioned above, but the most looming and greatest existential threat of all is being ignored. Any consideration of transitioning away from fossil fuels or what other countries are doing about climate change gets labeled “un-American” or “liberal nonsense.”
"Clean coal" is not real.
Under the Trump administration, scientific consensus and public interest in the millions of people has prompted little to no effort in transitioning the US economy to renewable energy or continuing climate negotiations. But the world's largest economy and leader in scientific research does not have to be the main catalyst to inspire change towards lowering pollution. Countries all over the world are taking obligations set by the Paris Accord seriously by adopting policies that will limit global warming well below 2°C. For those not familiar with the metric system, it is about 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit.
Global Warming or Climate Change?
Are these the same thing? The simple answer is not exactly. Global warming refers to the general rise in temperature due to the emissions, carbon dioxide, growth from burning of fossil fuels following the industrial revolution in the 19th century. Climate change refers to it erosion of the ozone layer, temperature rise and subsequent results such as shrinking glaciers, rising sea levels, and premature flowering and mating for plant and animal ranges. In sum, global warming is part of climate change. Climate change is worrying because of the disruptive changes in earth’s interconnected systems. Warming temperatures can affect global weather systems in unexpected ways—scientists claim that this explains the recent extreme weather events.
Short Term Pain, Long Term Gain
Countries who adopted laws that limit the amount of non-renewable energy are considerate of long term investment and sustainability. Instead of trying to build or industrialize as quickly as possible, these countries are thinking decades and generations ahead of themselves. An apt quote for their logic is, “Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” Many of the countries participating in the Paris Accord rapidly industrialized over 150 years without any consideration of environmental sustainability. Thus, the industrialized powers of the world should help developing countries skip the process of burning fossil fuels to industrialize and transition them to sustainable energy.
Can we cooperate?
The world and global civilization has never known a threat similar to climate change. The level of coordination, cooperation, and limitation of self-interested behavior will be a test of humanities advancement beyond hunter-gatherer societies. Can humans prevail against their greatest threat? Al Gore is optimistic. “We’re going to win this. We are going to prevail,” he says. “We have seen a revolutionary breakthrough in the emergence of these exponential curves.” The curves he is referring to are the exponential decrease in the costs of renewable energy, increase in energy storage capacity, and increase in investments in renewables. Many interesting developments are occurring all over the world, let's learn what other countries are doing about climate change. This list appears in the order that the climate change research think tank ranked them for 2018.
This Nordic country is considered by some to be the most renewable energy friendly in the world. It recently passed a law that obligates the government to cut all greenhouse gas emissions by 2045. Other initiatives to reduce pollution include an astoundingly successful recycling program, which has to import garbage to keep its recycling facilities running. For a developed country, Sweden sets itself apart as a model for other countries with similar economic conditions to follow. Its mentality towards investment and quality of life is alien to Americans, valuing free education, work-life balance, and comprehensive social rights —which is why some consider Sweden the best country in the world.
A North African country bordering the mediterranean is heralded for having some of the most progressive action plans for renewable energy in the world. By 2030, half of the countries power will be generated by a renewable energy source. Their strategies for reducing pollution include building larger solar power farms and making farm practices more efficient. The Climate Action Tracker lists Morocco as one of two countries who are within the parameters for adhering to the guidelines of the Paris Climate Agreement.
Home to viking heritage, beautiful mountains and a trillion dollar government pension fund, this nordic country used the profits from its national petroleum sector to create a fund that invests in global equities. Norway is praised by many renewable energy advocates for its low energy use but criticized for its large production and export of fossil fuels. Its national goal is to achieve 65.7 percent consumption of renewable energy by 2050. This will mainly be power by its immense hydropower plants and wind farms. A fun fact about Norway is that it has the highest concentration of electric cars in the world.
Adam Smith, David Ricardo, and Karl Marx all wrote their seminal works based on the immense social and economic changes that underwent in England from the 18th to the 19th century. April 21, 2017 marks the first day that England went without one of the key ingredients to their success, cheap and prolific coal. This day served as an amuse bouche for the greater wave of progressive climate change policy to follow, they plan to close their last coal plant by 2025. The transition to a cleaner economy is helped by a increase in electric cars, a shift towards a service industry, and an increase in wind power.
Home to a rapidly expanding economy and the second largest population, India’s demand for energy will grow to be immense. Thankfully, leaders of India realize that and have launched several nationally funded ventures that will foster a sizable renewable energy industry. India is succeeding in developing a competitive advantage in solar energy—it's on path to become the third largest market in the world. Due to its scale and technological advancements, solar power is becoming cheaper than coal. Its success has inspired their solar industry to go global, with plans on spreading their products to some of the poorest countries in the world. It will be interesting to see how India’s renewable energy industry reaches their ambitious target of non-fossil fuel energy sources to 40 percent of total energy sources by 2030.
France has long been an advocate for global cooperation on climate change. President Macron now spearheads negotiations pertaining to the Paris Agreement, but must step to truly make an impact. The Paris Agreement is an international climate agreement, mediated through the United Nations, where countries pledge non-binding goals for reducing greenhouse emissions. A goal of reducing emissions by 75 percent in 2050 is ambitious. Scientists and activists are skeptical whether their current allotment of nuclear power and other renewable energy sources are sufficient to meet their goal. Hopefully Macron’s new policy of inviting scientists to come live in France and subsidize their research dedicated to climate change will yield promising innovation.
A Global Advocate for Climate Change?
President Macron subverts Trump's slogan for ironic justice.
The previous reigning champion of progressive climate change policy, Denmark once led the world for renewable energy initiatives. Building highways instead of electrified railroads and revoking its coal-phase out marked an inflection points for the countries progressive stance. Its crown jewel of Copenhagen is at threat due to possible rising sea levels from climate change. Hopefully the current administration’s stance on pursuing non-renewable energy is just a fad. The GermanWatch think tank dropped Denmark’s current rating down to 17th due to recent policy changes.
A developing east African country with a population of 100 million people is taking bold steps toward clean energy. Despite their proximity to some of the largest oil reserves in the world in the middle east, Ethiopia aims to reduce its emissions by 64 percent by the year 2030. The World Bank currently quotes that 42 percent of the population has access to electricity. The world should applaud Ethiopia for taking a valiant path when there is mounting pressure to create job and reduce poverty. Some of the initiatives that the country plans on helping them achieve their goals are solar farms, rebuilding their forests, and use efficient farming tactics. In the long term, Ethiopia strives to become a middle-income nation with a carbon-neutral economy.
The Amazon rainforest is one of the most amazing ecosystems in the world. For the sake of preservation but also the forests ability to change the worlds weather system, this enchanting forest needs to be saved. WWF estimates that over a quarter of the entire amazon biome will be decimated if the current rate of deforestation occurs. This projection could have drastic consequences, scientists predict that it could affect the global weather system—making it more erratic and volatile. The country is highly rated, 19th by GermanWatch, for its relative economic development, high share of hydropower, and low emissions count. The preservation of the Amazon rainforest should be a priority for anyone concerned about the wrath of mother nature.
A country usually associated with large scale manufacturing, a huge population size, and polluted cities, China is trying to clean up its act. Its capital city is so polluted that many people are forced to wear masks to mitigate the negative effects of breathing toxic air. Despite China’s troubled past, they are trying to move forward. Being the world’s largest polluter at 10,357 million metric tons per year, ingenuity, innovation, and funding are necessary to combat a growing problem. In 2014, China was the world’s number one investor in renewable energy at $83.3 billion. They also operate the world’s biggest solar farm, more than double the figure of the US.
If global population levels are going to continue to rise, a sense of urgency needs to emerge for change to occur.
There are significant movements around the world regarding increases in energy efficiency and a push towards renewable energy. The most important take away from the overall movement is that no one is truly doing enough to enact a global movement. The GermanWatch think-tank does not list anyone from one to three because there is no global leader or country taking strides in changing the mentality about emissions growth. In sum, what other countries are doing about climate change is admirable, but not enough.